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The ten best airports in the US for business travelers

Pleasing road warriors can be tough, but these ten airports surpass their peers in internet access, cushy airport lounges, business centers and fine dining.
Image: San Francisco International Airport
The International Terminal, Departure LobbyAlain McLaughlin / San Francisco International Airport
/ Source: Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel

These days, tighter airport security means longer lines (and more socks) in the nation’s airports. The situation is forcing business travelers to become peripatetic telecommuters, with a quiet seat and laptop filling in as their office-away-from-office.

Some airports have been slow to recognize the growing need to accommodate these travelers, places where high-speed wireless Internet access is about as likely as finding a clean lunch table on which to spread out the Financial Times.

Other airports, however, are rapidly adapting, enabling the same high-speed, or WiFi ("wireless fidelity") Web access; building in-house full-service conference centers; and providing enough eating and drinking and sleeping and shopping amenities to keep executives happy while they wait.

And for businesses looking to wring the most out of their employees while they are on the road, these are welcome developments.

“Corporate America is looking closely at its travel budgets and wants to make its travelers as productive as possible,” says Bill Connors, executive director and COO of the National Business Travel Association, a trade group which represents more than 70 percent of the Fortune 500 companies. “Airports have a huge role to play in that productivity.”

Below, those airports that assign the highest priority to helping out their business customers:

1) San Francisco International Airport

Clean, efficient, manageable, high-tech, and well-run, SFO is clearly a good friend to the business traveler.

Silicon Valley’s influence has endowed the airport with a thorough, reliable Wifi network, powered by T-Mobile for $9.95 a day. Using it, you can access the Web anywhere from ticket counters to lounges to baggage claim areas, if your laptop has the proper built-in 802.11b capability or external card. At SFO, more traditional plug-in Internet access is also available, courtesy of data ports in about half the pay phones.

In a smart move, SFO rents out cell phones to travelers, if they need to have a local number during the course of their business stay. Though cell phone jabber isn’t allowed in SFO’s bright, plant-embellished Reflection Room, laptop computer use is okay, in case you need a quiet place to hammer out e-mails.

And pound for pound, SFO has some of the more savory and eclectic cuisine in Airportland, much of it served in settings suitable for business tête-à-têtes. The hands-down fave? Ebisu, an outpost of the city’s popular high-end sushi restaurant.

“Every time I walk through airports, I think of things they could do differently, or better,” says Tycho Peterson, a life sciences analyst for J.P. Morgan who flies into SFO seven times a year. “I rarely think that here.”

2) Portland International Airport

PDX is compact, which means walkable; getting around it is a pleasure. And leaving it by public transportation is a cinch; for $1.60, the first-rate MAX Red Line light-rail train runs downtown in just 38 minutes. On the way back, you won’t spend precious hours lacing and unlacing. The airport has instituted a shoes-stay-on policy if they are metal-free and their soles thin.

In between, PDX offers an excellent work environment, for either yourself or a group. Though the airport has yet to install any WiFi “hot spots,” the centrally located PDX Conference Center provides Web-enabled PCs, copy and fax machines, even limited secretarial service, as well as comfortable meeting rooms, some enhanced with projectors and whiteboards. The Columbia Room, for example, which can accommodate up to 30 people, can be rented for $30 an hour, or $135 a day.

“Portland is close and tight, so it’s very easy to get gate-to-gate,” says Jordan Klineman, president of a museum exhibition company, who has passed through PDX 15 times. “Small has advantages for the business traveler”

3) Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport

As Texas is large, DFW is big on business services.

The massive facility offers sweeping WiFi coverage across four terminals (a fifth is on the way)—provided by both T-Mobile and Wayport, unlike most airports, which have just one provider—with rates that range from 35 cents a minute to $9 per day. All terminals additionally offer standard plug-in connections at places like the Guest Services Center (Gate B14), where five lounge-y workstations provide Web access for $2.50 for the first 5 minutes, and $.35 for each additional minute.

Security checkpoints, 17 in all, are spaced out throughout the airport—not squeezed together near just a few entrances—which minimizes passenger logjams.

And if you miss that connecting flight, the adjoining Hyatt Regency DFW boasts 811 rooms, so it shouldn’t be tough to grab a good night’s sleep.

4) Salt Lake City International Airport

Extensively remodeled for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, SLC is a great place to wait, with comfortable views of the far-off Wasatch Mountains.

By late June, SLC will have taken another major step, with 100 percent WiFi penetration, thanks to Sprint. In the meantime, business travelers can rent Internet-enabled PCs or complete mini-offices at Laptop Lane, a popular franchise.

It’s a useful place to check flight arrival and departure information, courtesy of SLC’s easy-to-navigate, quick-to-load “real time” website, searchable by flight number, city, airline, gate, and time.

While the airport’s restaurants tend to close early, it does cater to shoppers with stores like Fossil and Brookstone. And here, female passengers can practice good grooming, too; Terminal 2’s King’s Den salon cuts executives’ hair and trims their nails.

5) Tampa International Airport

This western Florida coast city may not have Miami’s hip cachet, but business travelers love its airy airport, with a handy business center located in the lobby of the adjoining Airport Marriott Hotel, open 24 hours daily.

There, the airport makes available a half-dozen Internet-enabled PCs, as well as fax machines, color printers, and copiers, as well three kinds of shipping services.

Working while eating may be tough, as the booths at the Taco Bell and T.G.I. Friday’s are cramped, but to catch up on shopping—especially for golf gear—the Tampa Bay Galleria has 15 stores flanking a Starbucks stand.

The airport is also chock-a-block with gorgeous art. If you’re flying Delta, United, or Air Canada, check out the seven Depression-era murals by George S. Hill, who depicts the history of flight from father-son Daedelus-Icarus to Brothers Wright.

6) Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport

When its ongoing $3.1 billion makeover is completed, MSP will be a sight to behold, with a new fourth runway and terminal, and two new trams. Until then, it does a commendable job meeting business travelers’ needs. For those without laptops, Internet kiosks are available in Concourses C through G. For those with them, plug into pay phones; each has a data port. Or, duck into one of the many self-service business centers scattered throughout the terminals, open round the clock.

For the cutting-edge, $6.95 gets you 24 hours of WiFi Web access, though only in the Lindbergh Terminal and by Northstar Crossing mall (clothes are tax-free). But you can also tap the wireless network in the new Grieve Conference Center, which packs in both private offices, starting at $20 an hour, and larger conference rooms, starting at $50.

7) O’Hare International Airport (Chicago)

Why does O’Hare consistently earns high marks for its business friendliness?

For one, as a "dual hub" airport, there’s a plane to take you pretty much anywhere, with 50 airlines flying direct to 191 destinations worldwide. And even though it’s sprawling, O’Hare has a reliable monorail to make sure you make tricky connections.

Though the airport itself does not yet have any WiFi coverage, it does exist inside the American, United, Northwest, and Delta clubs, where you can typically also find basic office services.

Otherwise, head through the tunnel to the lower level of the O’Hare Hilton Hotel, whose business center provides 10 PC workstations, printers, fax machines, copiers, and FedEx shipping services. After, drop into the upstairs health club, where $10 will buy you a rare treat: time in a swimming pool.

8) McCarran International Airport (Las Vegas)

Because attending a Sin City convention is a no-brainer, McCarran rolls out the carpet for business travelers.

Executives traveling light will enjoy the SpeedCheck kiosks, which let them print their boarding passes. They can also check in to their hotel at the airport, if it’s in the MGM Grand or Caesars family.

McCarran lacks WiFi coverage, though a few Internet kiosks exist inside. Onsite, there’s also a full-service U.S. Post Office and Wells Fargo bank.

Of course, because this is Vegas, the airport also contains 1,308 slot machines, one way to dispose of loose pocket change. Aviation buffs might prefer the open-air Cannon Aviation Museum, though this comes free.

Cuisine at McCarran seems stuck in sports-stadium mode, but working off those meat dishes won’t be a problem; 24 Hour Fitness health club lets you relax in a sauna or pump iron under big-screen TVs.

9) Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

Bill Gates’s home succeeds with high-speed wireless service from Wayport; $6.95 buys unlimited access from purchase till midnight, though coverage is only partial.

Yet for a different use for your Sony Vaio, rent a DVD from InMotion Pictures; just drop off the movie at your next destination. Or, shut down your system and go appreciate Sea-Tac’s impressive art collection, including pieces by Robert Rauschenberg and Frank Stella.

One unique feature: "Send It Home" kiosks, located near security gates, which allow you to mail prohibited items back home ($6), in case you mistakenly left your Swiss Army knife in your toiletries kit.

10) Newark Liberty International Airport (New Jersey)

You won’t break a sweat getting around this New York City regional airport, thanks to the delightful AirTrain monorail.

It will deliver you to Terminals A and B, where WiFi service recently arrived, at a cost of $6.95 for a full day, provided by Concourse Communications. For more privacy, head to the many deluxe airlines clubs here: United, U.S. Airways, American Airlines, Northwest, and British Airways. Most have data ports, showers, and some concierge services.

Best of the lot are Continental's three "Presidents Clubs" ($425 initial fee; $375 annual fee), which offer free WiFi coverage, fax machines, copiers, beverages, and snacks, and a sizable conference room, which can become an instant boardroom for 10 executives, for $35 an hour (Terminal C3).

For supplies, Newark is home to higher-end boutiques like Kenneth Cole and L’Occitane, and for female travelers, the d-parture spa is a good place for facials or waxings.

Or, try out one of 30 rocking chairs in Terminal B, for a low-tech solution to stress.