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20 Best Major U.S. Airports

Airports are upping their game through public art, delicious food, and much cleaner bathrooms. Here's what we love (or loathe) about flying from or connected through The Wall Street Journal's list of the 20 best major U.S. airports.

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DENVER, CO - APRIL 23, 2016: Passengers traverse through the Jeppesen Terminal, (also known as the Great Hall) at Denver International Airport, DEN, a large hub airport in the central United States.

Denver International Airport (DEN)

Miles of good food, pleasant service, a den of conspiracy theories to explore, and one chatty gargoyle await in the Mile High City’s superb international airport. As the Wall Street Journal points out, because no single airline dominates in Denver, the airport’s management team gets to make decisions that serve the entire space not simply what would make one major carrier happy in their own terminal. The result is an airport that is easy to get in and out of (even by bicycle) and extremely easy to enjoy spending a couple of hours waiting to board a connecting flight. The Westin is steps from the terminal and DEN is a Global Entry airport helping speed up international travel.

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ORLANDO - DECEMBER 30: Interior atrium of Orlando International Airport December 30, 2011 in Orlando, FL. It is the second busiest airport in Florida after Miami International.
Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

Orlando International Airport (MCO)

The airport located in the “Happiest Place on Earth” is often abuzz with giddy children on their way to or home from Disney World or Universal theme parks. Regardless of whether you consider that a plus or a minus, navigating your way around MCO, finding a bite to eat, and checking TSA wait times are a breeze with the terrific Orlando airport app. The airport’s art program is delightful thanks to intricate tile floors, glass etchings of animals, and a gorgeous pair of artistically-rendered manatees on the wall between terminals A and B. There’s a grand Hyatt Regency Hotel on site and to speed up your security process, both Global Entry and CLEAR are available at the Orlando airport.

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PHOENIX, AZ - MAY 16, 2015: Busy terminals in Phoenix Sky Harbor International airport, Arizona.
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Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)

Airports can often be a food desert for vegans and vegetarians but not in Phoenix. There are many meatless and dairy-free choices at Sky Harbor boldly trademarked as America’s Tastiest Airport®. (Just be sure to steer clear of these 11 foods you should never eat at an airport.) If Phoenix is your final destination, connecting to the downtown area is quick and easy thanks to the PHX Sky Train running 24 hours a day, seven days a week. International travel is easy with CLEAR and Global Entry kiosks available at Phoenix Sky Harbor airport.

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ATLANTA, GEORGIA - JULY 27, 2015: The main hall inside Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. It is the world's busiest airport by passenger traffic.
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Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)

One of the most ambitious live music endeavors in the country happens daily in the Atlanta airport as 11 musicians share their talents with live performances through the concourses. From cello to pedal steel guitar, Caribbean steel drums to hip hop and a lot of jazz in between, there’s always something to hear which makes connecting through ATL a pleasant experience. Sharing the live music on your social media channels is easy, too, thanks to fast free airport WiFi.

This being the hospitable South, food is plentiful and delicious. Whether you want popular burger chains like Shake Shack or Five Guys or crave some local cuisine at One Flew South, you will not go hungry waiting for your flight. While Global Entry hasn’t arrived in Atlanta yet, there are two CLEAR locations at ATL. These are the best restaurants near Atlanta airport.

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DALLAS FT WORTH - FEB 26: The Dallas Fort Worth airport is shown on Feb. 26, 2009 in Texas. The airport plans millions of dollars worth of incentives for new international routes.

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)

We absolutely love that DFW has a special place for children and more “mature” plane lovers alike to watch the traffic come and go in the sky; check out Founders’ Plaza the next time you are in Dallas. A lot of airports feature an array of art for passengers to ponder as they pass by from gate to gate but the multi-million dollar collection of sculptures, painting, and mosaics at DFW is worth experiencing on the tour that’s offered free of charge. This being Texas, there’s no shortage of food, from finger licking BBQ to a chance to dine among Cowboys gridiron legends. International travel from and through DFW couldn’t be easier thanks to Global Entry and CLEAR kiosks. Keep these nutritionist-approved airport eats in mind to stay healthy on the road.

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LAS VEGAS - NOVEMBER 3: Private Boeing 747 taxis at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas, NV on November 3, 2014. Boeing 747 was the worlds largest aircraft for 40 years up until the A380 was created.
Chris Parypa Photography/Shutterstock

McCarran International Airport (LAS)

We can’t imagine still being hungry after leaving Sin City, but in case the endless buffets of the strip or the celebrity chef restaurants of MGM properties didn’t fill you up, there’s a string of good eats waiting for you at Vegas’ McCarran airport. Same goes for those who haven’t given enough money to the one-armed bandits, as the airport also has slot machines for passing the time until you board your flight. You’ll find a wealth of fine shopping choices too, like Alex and Ani, Michael Kors, and a Harley-Davidson outpost. For passengers wanting to learn instead of eating, gaming, or spending more cash, check out the diminutive Aviation Museum exhibits open 24/7. Passing through security is a cinch with CLEAR but sadly there’s no Global Entry in Vegas, yet. Las Vegas McCarran is one of the cheapest airports to fly into and out of in the United States.

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SEATTLE, WA -27 JUNE 2016- The Sea-Tac Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) is the largest airport in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. It is a main hub for Alaska Airlines.

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA)

Any book on the history of modern American music would have a sizable chapter on artists from the Pacific NW so it makes perfect sense that Seattle’s airport, nicknamed Sea-Tac, would have a robust live music calendar. Check out who’s playing and at which gate to catch a concert before catching your flight and be sure to check out the Sub Pop Records store. The airport’s app will help you get in the quickest TSA security line and give you the scoop on the easiest way to reach downtown Seattle. Going international from Seattle is made easier thanks to Global Entry and CLEAR being on site.

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CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 1, 2019: Waiting area in Charlotte Douglas International Airport. CLT is the second largest hub for American Airlines with service to 161 domestic and

Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT)

We know why passengers love flying through Charlotte, North Carolina—it’s the white wooden rocking chairs bathed in natural light beneath the massive glass windows of the Atrium food court and the delicious Carolina pit BBQ from Brookwood Farms. We also love that CLT hosts an annual Runway 5K which takes runners past planes and jet bridges. No CLEAR kiosks at CLT yet but Global Entry makes security clearance quicker when arriving in Charlotte.

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EL SEGUNDO, CA, USA - JANUARY 21, 2018: American Airlines planes at the Los Angeles International airport (LAX) with the San Gabriel mountains in the background.
Angel DiBilio/Shutterstock

Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)

Of course, it’s fun to spot Hollywood celebrities while flying from LAX—those West Coast to East Coast red eyes always seem to feature someone who sorta looks like that guy from that thing you binge-watched on Netflix—but LAX wins for other reasons too. Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf gives Starbucks a run for its money and the ease of connecting to far-flung destinations like Hawaii, Hong Kong, and Tokyo help Los Angeles International Airport shine. Both Global Entry and CLEAR kiosks are located at LAX. Los Angeles runways are hectic, but it’s not the busiest airport in the country.

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BOSTON, MA -4 AUG 2017- View of the Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) in Boston, Massachusetts.

Boston Logan International Airport (BOS)

Located out in the harbor, Boston’s airport is extremely close to the historic downtown area and easily accessible on the city’s MBTA public transit system, should you have a long layover and want to grab a drink at Cheers or visit Faneuil Hall. While in the airport waiting for your flight, enjoy one more crab cake at Legal Seafood (or the slightly more exciting Legal Test Kitchen), an upscale meal at celeb chef Todd English’s Bonfire, or a local beer at Harpoon Brewery in terminal A. Conveniently, there’s a Hilton hotel with a direct connection to the terminals via an enclosed sky bridge. Global Entry kiosks are available at Boston Logan.

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ST. PAUL, MINNESOTA, USA - August 14, 2011, An aircraft at Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport(MSP). The airport is surrounded by Menneapolis, St. Paul and many suburban cities

Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP)

Eating at MSP may forever raise your expectations of airport food thanks to many of Minneapolis-St. Paul’s best chefs—most notably James Beard Award nominees Doug Flicker and Lenny Russo and Travel Channel host Andrew Zimmern have new dining spots. After you polish off a tasty meal, hit the official 1.4-mile walking path sponsored by the American Heart Association in Terminal 1 to burn off at least some of those calories before sitting for hours on yet another flight. Finally, with a full belly and a raised heart rate, relax with a free neck and shoulder massage at the on-site Aveda spa. The InterContinental hotel is connected to the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport and frequent travelers will love that both Global Entry and CLEAR kiosks are available at MSP.

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HOUSTON, ESA SEPTEMBER 19, 2017: Unidentified passengers walking with lugagge in airport Houston Intercontinental Airport, Houston, TX

George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH)

Recently recognized for providing the best digital experience in the world to its passengers, airport kiosks at Houston’s airport allow travelers to scan their boarding pass to receive a 3D map that will show the quickest and most efficient route to the departing gate. While following your route, keep an ear out for a Harmony in the Air live concert performance in terminals A and D.

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MIAMI, FL -3 JAN 2019- View of the Miami International Airport (MIA), formerly Wilcox Field.

Miami International Airport (MIA)

Low-cost, long-hauler Norwegian Air has just opened up a direct Miami to London route on their comfy new Boeing 787 Dreamliner planes and Moroccan national carrier Royal Air Maroc has launched the first-ever Miami to Casablanca route, making this bustling South Florida airport an even more attractive option for global travelers. While waiting to fly away from Miami, there will be a bevy of exciting, energized art exhibits—some permanent, others temporary installations—bringing the flavor of the city’s Wynwood neighborhood to gaze upon before boarding your flight. Global Entry kiosks and CLEAR are both available at Miami International Airport.

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DETROIT, MI -28 MAY 2017- View of the McNamara Terminal at the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Metro Airport (DTW), a major airline hub for Delta Airlines (DL).

Detroit Metro Airport (DTW)

You may be surprised to see Detroit on this list of best major U.S. airports, but DTW is an important destination for connecting flights. In fact, every single day 1,100 flights to and from four continents use Detroit as a hub, so much so that even Iron Chef Cat Cora has a taproom here, serving fresh organic dishes. Shopping highlights include a Dylan’s Candy Bar and EA Sports Interactive experience selling licensed apparel from Detroit and Michigan sports teams. You’ll find both Global Entry kiosks and CLEAR here.

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CHICAGO, IL -7 APR 2017- The colored electric neon tunnel The Sky Is the Limit at Chicago O'Hare International Airport (ORD) connects the B and C concourses at the United Airlines (UA) terminal.

O’Hare International Airport (ORD)

If you travel enough, you’ll surely experience an O’Hare layover in Chicago… and possibly a weather delay. Next time you are in the Windy City’s busiest airport, head over the mezzanine level of the O’Hare Rotunda Building in Terminal 3, near the free yoga room, to view the first aeroponic garden at any airport in the world! While there, you can view the garden while relaxing or enjoying a meal featuring some of the veggies and herbs that are grown just a few feet away. Or grab a day pass to the on-site Hilton Athletic Club to squeeze in a work out in between flights. While there are Global Entry kiosks at O’Hare, CLEAR is not yet there. You may be delayed in Chicago, but these are the most reliable airports in the United States.

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San Francisco, California, USA - January 21, 2019 : Exterior view of International terminal of San Francisco International Airport. Cars, buses and shuttles pick up and drop off passengers.
Michael Vi/Shutterstock

San Francisco International Airport (SFO)

While they don’t wear tuxedoes, the SFO airport butler service is available for anyone needing help from curb to gate, a welcome help for those traveling with more gear than they can handle. We also love the airport’s Wag Brigade. This doggy service brings SPCA rescue dogs in to roam the terminals making travelers of all ages smile and relax. There are three incredible reasons to spend some time in the International Terminal. First, inside its Main Hall is an architectural adaptation of the SFO’s 1930s passenger lobby containing an impressive Aviation Museum and Library, and second is an outdoor terrace observation deck with comfy seats and a 180-degree view of the airfield and beyond. Finally, the Video Arts room screens short-form documentaries from leading filmmakers. Both Global Entry and CLEAR are here to speed up your security process.

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PHILADELPHIA, PA -24 MAY 2017- Inside Terminal D at the Philadelphia International Airport (PHL).

Philadelphia International Airport (PHL)

Changes are afoot in the City of Brotherly Love with an improved passenger experience thanks to modernized dining services, a beer garden, and grab-and-go snacks with local foods and Hank’s root beers all available for purchase via self-checkout stations. But the problems of slow baggage claim delivery after your flight lands still haunts Philly’s airport as does slow security lines. At the bustling connected terminals of B and C, the former is exclusively for TSA PreCheck while the latter serves all other American Airline passengers with a line that stretches for a good half mile during peak travel time.

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NEW YORK CITY, NY/USA-JUNE 18, 2017: The LaGuardia airport in New York City is being rebuilt, while still in constant operation. A major construction project of new terminals is underway.
Thomas Barrat/Shutterstock

LaGuardia Airport (LGA)

For such a bright lights big city, with countless world-class dining options, the airports of the greater New York City area cast shadows where there should be light. The utilitarian nature of this space, and millions of sullen faces shuffling through on their way to someplace else, make LaGuardia extra hard to love. The Port Authority website is good about keeping travelers updated in real time on the various TSA security line busyness, walking time between terminals, taxi wait times, and on-site parking availability. So it’s not all bad! There are CLEAR kiosks but no Global Entry at LaGuardia.

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NEW YORK, NY -9 AUG 2017- View of a giant American flag inside Terminal 1 at the John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK).

John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)

Extremely cheap flights to Europe on popular low-cost carrier Norwegian Air is one of the brightest selling points as to why you should make the trek out to JFK because it certainly isn’t the food, ease of parking, or often painfully long security lines. Most fly into and out of New York City’s JFK because they have to, not because they want to. Global Entry and CLEAR kiosks are available to ease the pain of arriving at JFK from an international flight.

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NEWARK, NJ -5 JAN 2017- Aerial view of Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) in New Jersey. Newark is a major hub for United Airlines and the second busiest airport for the New York area.

Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)

The main reason many passengers fly out of Newark is not the amenities but the cheaper flights in comparison to nearby airports. Take Philadelphia for example, where people make the two-hour journey up the NJ Turnpike to save upwards of 50 percent on long haul flights and non-stop flights. There is a hotel inside the airport, the Newark Liberty Marriott, and it is easy to connect to points north and south via Airtrain service from EWR and then on an Amtrak or NJ Transit train. The WiFi at the airport is complimentary but there’s not much else to endear this busy airport to frequent fliers. Global Entry kiosks are available in Newark’s airport, but none for CLEAR users. Now, make sure you know these 15 secrets airports don’t want you to know.

Jeff Bogle
Jeff Bogle is an Iris Award–winning photographer, avid traveler and English football fanatic who regularly covers travel, culture, cars, health, business, the environment and more for Reader's Digest. He is the proud dad of teen daughters.