Smaller airports which market themselves as alternatives to major U.S. airports are becoming better known for their ease of travel and more popular with...

Smaller airports which market themselves as alternatives to major U.S. airports are becoming better known for their ease of travel and more popular with the flying public, but are still a well-kept secret, according to a new survey of U.S. travelers’ airport preferences.

The survey, which was commissioned by Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport (MKE, a recognized alternative to Chicago O’Hare International Airport), shows that 92 per cent of U.S. adults who used an alternative airport in the past year would do so again; and that 77 per cent who have flown from an alternative airport feel less stress than using a major airport.

According to MKE, the ease of travel to and from alternative airports is catching on, as 48 per cent of U.S. adults who have traveled on a commercial aircraft in the past year traveled via an alternative airport.

However, the online survey – which Harris Interactive conducted on behalf of MKE in May among 2,361 U.S. adults – revealed that only 19 per cent of U.S. adults who search for air travel online say they always or often search for alternative airports.

Travelers experience the relaxed atmosphere of Concourse C at Milwaukee County's General Mitchell International Airport

“Alternative airports may be one of travel’s best-kept secrets, offering those who use them the potential for significant time- and money-savings,” says Pat Rowe, spokesperson for General Mitchell International Airport.

In the study, which explored air travelers’ airport preferences, low fares and convenience emerged as key drivers of airport choice. The survey found that:

● “Low fares” are the primary driver of airport choice. Of the surveyed U.S. adults who have traveled via air in the past year, when considering which airport to use, 70 per cent selected “low fares” as being most important, followed by “proximity to home” (66 per cent) and “access to nonstop service” (36 per cent). Average airfares generally are lower at smaller airports near major hubs, according to U.S. Department of Transportation statistics. Citing these statistics, Mitchell Airport says its airfares average $108 less than those of nearby O’Hare, and $75 less than the U.S. national average.

At Milwaukee County's General Mitchell International Airport, Concourse D’s iconic clock helps keep travelers on time

● Flying via alternative airports brings “less stress”. Airports appear to play a large role in setting the tone for a trip, according to the study. In their responses, 77 per cent of travelers who have flown via an alternative airport in the past year said it brought less stress than flying through a major airport, and 88 per cent reported having a “happy experience” at an alternative airport. In terms of the effect that stress has on a traveler’s overall travel experience, 68 percent of surveyed travelers who have traveled via aircraft within the past year felt that if their experience with an airport was stressful, it affected their entire trips. The percentage among business travelers is even higher, with 75 per cent having that sentiment.

Milwaukee County's General Mitchell International Airport features ground-level boarding gates on Concourse D

“Chicago-area travelers drive an uncongested freeway to Mitchell and park in our lots for less, while inbound travelers take advantage of our quick, easy access to Chicago. It’s a much calmer experience than O’Hare, and with our lower fares and many nonstop destinations, they keep coming back,” Rowe says of passengers’ experience of using MKE.

Sometimes referred to as “Chicago’s Third Airport”, MKE says it has enjoyed record growth and increasing popularity among northern-Chicago travelers over the past several years. The airport estimates that about 10 per cent of its nearly 10 million annual passengers reside in neighboring Illinois.

Milwaukee General Mitchell International Airport’s Amtrak station provides easy access to and from northern Illinois and downtown Chicago

Besides Chicago, many other large U.S. cities such as New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington D.C., Boston and Miami are served by alternative airports. MKE advises that identifying these airports can be as simple as check-marking a box or two in an online fare search. Since alternative airports aren’t always automatically included, travelers can find them by selecting the ‘advanced search’ option to include nearby airports in their fare search.

MKE says travelers should also keep in mind that flights and fares on certain airlines – notably Southwest Airlines, which serves MKE – aren’t accessible on most online travel booking sites. Accordingly, travelers should also compare fares directly on airline websites.

This photograph shows a view of General Mitchell International Airport's Concourse E

For additional information about Milwaukee’s Generall Mitchell International Airport (MKE), visit

To find out the complete methodology of the MKE-commissioned airport survey, including weighting variables, contact Harvest PR & Marketing at patty(at)