I think of my nearest airport as the world’s biggest little airport. Phoenix Sky Harbor (PHX) serves the 12th-largest metro area in the country, yet its only intercontinental flight is a daily British Airways 747-400 to London Heathrow (LHR). The laundry list of reasons to explain this doesn’t make the situation any more palatable when I book a long-haul flight … and have to go through Los Angeles, Chicago, or San Francisco. I even get envious when I see the international flights from cities like Portland, Seattle, or even Charlotte.
Often overlooked, there are many great international options are smaller airports. There are benefits like being less busy, parking is cheaper, and it provides a little different experience. I started researching long-haul flights that would let me skip the big airports as much as possible. Here’s what I learned:
Rely on Hawaiian Airlines
Sky Harbor has daily service to Honolulu from Hawaiian Airlines. Once I land in Honolulu, I can continue on Hawaiian to destinations across Oceania and Asia. I recently tested this with reasonably priced flights for my family of three to visit New Zealand. The Hawaiian employees were pleasant and the onboard meals were decent. The Honolulu airport is also a great place to stretch your legs, especially with its open-air corridors that let visitors bask in some welcome (to this desert dweller, anyway) humidity. The planes themselves – a 767 between Phoenix and Honolulu and an A330 between Honolulu and Auckland – didn’t impress. Also, the customs and immigration areas at Honolulu are a bit of a mosh pit.
Still, the Hawaiian flights are good enough to get some future business from me. It might also be feasible to fly Hawaiian to Honolulu and then continue with one of the Asia-based airlines.
Don’t Overlook San Jose
I had wanted to visit Vietnam for years. The major obstacle: flights … at least three legs. Every stop is a chance for problems.
But three stops also means more chances to fly cool aircraft. I found a flight on ANA’s Dreamliner from Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC) in California to Tokyo Narita. From there, an ANA 767 would take us to Ho Chi Minh City.
This turned out perfectly. I wish we’d have retraced our steps on the way back. The ANA 787-8 was configured 2-4-2, and the service was as extremely attentive; for example, it would be my wife’s birthday when we crossed the International Date Line and the ground staff at San Jose signed a birthday card and gave her a bag of chocolate truffles. Also, our domestic and international gates were very close together at Mineta, and the terminals were bright and airy.
The Oakland-Europe Connection
So far, I’ve only mentioned getting to Asia. But Oakland International has some European options. I’ve avoided the British Airways flight from Phoenix because it’s a bit overpriced, and the 747-400s used for the flights are aging.
I’m also not a Paris-London-Rome sort of guy. I’m more interested in Oslo, Stockholm, or Helsinki. That’s in the wheelhouse of the Norwegian Air Shuttle flights from Oakland. Norwegian has 787s taking passengers to Copenhagen, London Gatwick, Oslo, and Stockholm. I haven’t flown the Norwegian 787, but I flew multiple legs within Scandinavia on their 737s. Every flight was a great experience, and the crews were pleasant and unflappable, even when we had a rushed connection between two of their flights.
I’m likely to try Norwegian for a future flight from Oakland to Scandinavia. If they team up with a domestic U.S. airline to get me to Oakland or other cities Norwegian serves (like Las Vegas or Hartford), the odds increase. Better yet, add Phoenix as a destination. With our great flying weather, we could connect travelers throughout the southwest to other destinations served by Norwegian.
What About You?
I’m sure there are plenty of overlooked intercontinental flights I haven’t considered. Which ones have you tried? How did they rate versus going through the major hubs?
This story was written by Justin Schmid for AirlineReporter. Justin’s favorite travel activities includes running 10k races, caving, and eating absolutely anything and everything that someone puts in front of him.