After having traversed a significant distance by terrestrial standards you are standing on the curb of a large airport waiting for a rickety van from your car-rental company that is expected to saunter in at a jovial pace. When, after the stipulated seven minutes, too short to get through an article on your iPhone on Techcrunch, and too long to not check your watch three times, that van does come, you haul up your little travel bag in an unwieldy fashion and place it between your legs as you sit down and wonder how many more stops to go on the scenic route till your eventual destination -- where a multitude of automobiles sharing the certitude of boredom await you. From this seemingly rectilinear assortment, thanks to a logistical miracle, you will be able to find the one set of wheels that will finally put you on your way to your destination. If you are not on the insider track, there is a high likelihood that you will be subject to some ID checking, queuing, and excruciating sounds of rundown dot-matrix printers at the rental kiosk -- where your experience will almost entirely depend on the mood of the person on-duty. Needless to say, the longwinded-ness of the account of this routine is commensurate with the longwinded-ness of the routine itself. Unless you have had the wisdom or the fortune of flying into one of America's smaller airports. Jeeves, with his infinite sanguinity, would certainly approve.
Think about Providence, Rochester, Charlottesville, White Plains, and some others in this select vintage of smaller airports. Here, it is still possible to strut out through the swanky automatic doors (the ones that look new enough to assure you that you will neither be sliced nor sandwiched) and walk up to your ride for the day in less than 3 minutes. Compare these to the ugh-ness of O'Hare or Logan or Dulles or JFK -- and you realize that you can save close to 40 minutes, on average, if you're flying into a smaller airport and renting a car. I've also noticed that these 40 minutes can play a significant role in enhancing the springiness of my step -- you should look into this too.
Now you must be thinking that taking a taxi is an end to your woes. No rental cars -- no hassle. Alas, taking a taxi is not enough. Some airports are cities in their own right, and should come complete with an inside the airport tourist information guide (Tom Hanks, from The Terminal, is likely to agree). Dulles airport, for example, has these amazing people-moving platforms that can, at least in theory, be used to shuttle anything, including cattle, between far-flung gates on this ranch-sized property. Seattle & Detroit have transit trains in their airports, although there are none in the cities these airports serve (I have a hunch that the motor lobby has less influence inside airports). These massive airport layouts easily add an extra 10-15 minutes whenever you're departing or arriving, and have a tendency of adding those mini-workouts in your day at precisely the time you don't want them. In the interest of completeness, I will add that many airports are using their vast wastelands (as Newton Minow would say) for the advancement of certain undiscovered (perhaps aptly so) strains of modern art.
Many of the larger airports also demand extra check-in time. For example, at Dulles you need to be there 45 minutes before whereas at Reagan (a much smaller airport) you can often get away with 30 minutes only. Couple that with the fact that larger airports often have larger planes (so more passengers), and that you might have to wait longer in the check-in and security queues, or to pick up your bags at baggage claim -- you could easily be looking at an extra half hour of your time vanish. You will also more likely spend some USDs on procuring unhealthy food and drinks (obviously overpriced) during this time. This will, undoubtedly, scratch-off any workout credits you were thinking of claiming in retrospect from the coercion you had suffered earlier.
In sharp contrast, in recent visits to Yale and Dartmouth, I had occasion to use the airports at New Haven and Hanover. I had the flexibility to show up to the airport a grand total of 15 minutes before the departure time, check-in bags, and board the flight with a few minutes to spare! Not to mention the pleasure of chit-chatting with the pilot and co-pilot, and learning about smaller planes from them. It was fun, hassle-free, and human. Next time you're on that rickety car-rental service shuttle on your way to an immersion program in a mosaic of metallic sheen, reflect on what smaller airport options you might have. Time is money. And even if you're non-materialistic, time is time.
For a listing of airports by size, you can click here.
Follow Dinkar Jain on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DinkarJain