The three New York City airports—JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark—are major international hubs known the world over. Few travelers realize, though, just how many other options New York State has to offer. (Granted, only a few of them are close enough to the metropolis to serve as viable alternatives to the big three if you’re New York City-bound.)
However, if you’re wanting to discover New York’s other wonders—from Niagara Falls to the Finger Lakes to the Adirondack Mountains—you’re better off flying upstate. These four New York airports will land you close to locations known for scenic beauty and outdoor fun; here’s how to find the best one for your trip.
Buffalo Niagara International Airport (BUF)
Location: Buffalo, New York
Best If: You’re visiting Niagara Falls or the city of Buffalo, or planning a two-nation vacation that includes a drive across the border to Canada.
Avoid If: Winter weather-related delays would severely impact your travel plans.
Distance to Niagara Falls: Niagara Falls, New York does have its own international airport, but flight options are extremely limited and prone to delays. Instead, fly into Buffalo’s airport—New York’s Niagara Falls State Park is only a 30-minute drive away. Don’t want to rent a car? Public transportation options between Buffalo and the city of Niagara Falls include Amtrak (from $14; 1 hour, 8 minutes) and the #40 Buffalo Metro bus ($2, approximately 1 hour); to get downtown, take the #24 bus from BUF ($2).
Buffalo’s airport, located about 11 miles east of downtown, is the busiest of the four major upstate New York airports and the third busiest airport in the state (after NYC’s LaGuardia and JFK). About one-third of the passengers who fly through BUF in a typical year are Canadians, who find fares here are often cheaper than flights into and out of Toronto (40 minutes away by car). Airlines that serve Buffalo include: American, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest, United, and Vacation Express by Sunwing.
One of the oldest public airports in the country, BUF has been welcoming passengers since 1927. As of 2020, work continues on an $83 million project to expand and “buff up” the airport, which served nearly 5 million passengers in 2019. As with any major urban airport, you’ll want to allow extra driving time at rush hours, keeping in mind that all airport traffic at BUF is bound for the airport’s lone terminal. There are shops, bars, and restaurants to keep you fed and entertained before your flight, including Canadian import Tim Hortons, where you can pick up Timbits (a.k.a. doughnut holes) for an in-flight snack.
Greater Rochester International Airport (ROC)
Location: Rochester, New York
Best If: You’d like a stress-free, small airport experience and don’t mind sacrificing frills like extensive dining options.
Avoid If: You want to fly non-stop to or from anywhere beyond the Eastern Seaboard.
Distance to University of Rochester and Downtown Rochester: The airport is 3 miles from campus and 5 miles from downtown attractions like the Strong Museum. Expect to pay about $13 for cab rides between the airport and the university, or $25 between the airport and downtown.
Distance to Finger Lakes Wine Country: From the airport, it’s a 40-minute drive to Canandaigua on the western side of the Finger Lakes.
The city of Rochester in northwestern New York has its own tiny airport, located off I-390 southwest of downtown. Locals and those who fly into and out of Rochester for business, college, or leisure pursuits appreciate its ease and its relatively robust schedule of flights for such a small airport. Airlines that serve ROC include Allegiant, American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, and United.
One of the most unique aspects of ROC is its Airfield Viewing Area: an observatory open free to the public, no airline ticket required. If you’re missing air travel but have no plans to fly, this comfortable, wide-open space at the upper west end of the ticketing lobby is a place to relax and enjoy a view of the action on the main runway.
Albany International Airport (ALB)
Location: Colonie, New York
Best If: You’re visiting the capital region, the Catskills or Adirondacks, or western New England.
Avoid If: You’re looking to fly on the cheap. Albany’s ranked one of the worst airports in the country for fare deals.
Distance to Empire State Plaza and the State Capitol Building: The airport is 8 miles away from the heart of the capital city, but it’s often faster to drive the longer, 12.5-mile route via I-90 (under 20 minutes). A taxi from the airport to the capital runs $25–30, not including tip.
New York’s capital city is 150 miles north of New York City and 170 miles west of Boston, and its airport can be your gateway to adventure in the rugged mountains of northern New York and neighboring Vermont. The “international” in its name is a bit misleading: Denver is about as far as you can currently fly from Albany without making a connection. But there are just enough flights between hub cities and this recently upgraded airport for it to blip on your radar. Airlines that serve Albany include Allegiant, American, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest, and United.
In 1928, Albany proudly opened the nation’s first municipal airport, which has grown and evolved to its current status as an important resource for the capital region. Significant investments made just prior to the travel downturn of 2020 position ALB for a return to the fast growth it experienced in the late 2010s. These include a dedicated exit off the Adirondack Northway (I-87 Exit 3), which makes driving into and out of the airport easier and faster, and a new 1,000-car parking garage.
While the drive or taxi ride may be more efficient, ALB’s single terminal, which has just one TSA Security Checkpoint standing between passengers and all three concourses, means lines are known to bottleneck; plan to arrive well over an hour before your flight. Once you’re through, you’ll find the line-up of food and beverage purveyors strong for an airport of this size.
Syracuse Hancock International Airport (SYR)
Location: Syracuse, New York
Best If: You’re visiting upstate New York in the wintertime and want to feel confident your arrival and departure airport is prepared to handle snow.
Avoid If: You need flexible flight options, as arrivals and departures are limited.
Distance to Syracuse University: The airport is a 9-mile, 15-minute drive from campus. Taxi fare will run you about $34, so you may want to consider alternatives such as Uber or Lyft. There is no direct bus service between the airport and the university.
Distance to Finger Lakes Wine Country: From SYR, you’re just under an hour’s drive to Seneca Falls in the heart of the Finger Lakes. You’ll want to rent a car to explore the many wine trails in this scenic region.
Yes, there’s an airport in the snowiest city in America, and you can rest assured it rarely closes when the flakes fly. Syracuse Hancock International Airport, located 5 miles northeast of downtown, is at the same site as a U.S. Air Force base. It has direct flights to about 24 domestic destinations via six major carriers: Allegiant, American, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, and United.
Try to arrive early for your flight so you can explore the free Syracuse Regional Aviation Museum, located on Level 1 behind the Grand Hall’s escalators. Getting there is easy via Route I-81, and, if you plan ahead, you can register your existing E-ZPass device for ParkSYR and breeze right in and out of designated entrance and exit lanes. Recent upgrades have given this small airport a fresh, modern look, and conveniences include free WiFi throughout the terminal.