How to Choose an Airport if there are Multiples in a location

Incurable Wanderlust Podcast - Season 1, Episode 3

This episode is all about answering the question "How do you tell if a city has more than one airport? How do you decide which one to use?". If you really want to increase your flight knowledge and learn not only how to tell if a city has more than one airport to use but also how to read airport codes then this episode is for you.

Click here for Airport Reference Sheet.

Click here to learn more about IATA.


Hey everyone, this is Emily from The Female Abroad and you are listening to the Incurable Wanderlust podcast which offers tips, tricks and trips to help make you a more confident and knowledgeable traveler. Here we provide and discuss firsthand knowledge from our trips to make sure your trip planning is easier. Be sure to follow so you can find this podcast when you really need it and visit for podcasts transcripts, our social media links, and more information that can help you with all your travel planning.

I decided to break this week's episode into two separate parts as the topics are very different. This episode is how to figure out if there's more than one airport at a city and the other episode is how to find a local restaurant.

Recently I asked a general question on Facebook as to what travel topics would you like to hear about on a podcast? And one of the most liked ideas was “how to tell if a city has more than one airport and which one you should fly into”. This is a great question!

For seasoned travelers or people that live in or near cities that have more than one airport you probably know how difficult or confusing it can be to figure out which airport you need or will be using. Plus if you have no idea what airport codes are you may not even realize that you're flying into one airport and then out of another.

Now when it comes to airports there are multiple types with the three main categories:

- Private: These are where private jets will fly into or out of

- Commercial: This is where business will fly cargo out for example, FedEx or Amazon

- and public: These are the type where most people will fly out of or into, but they're broken down even further.

You have:

- International airports: These are airports that serve international locations.

- Regional: these are airports that serve the same country. Airlines are usually referred to as regional carriers

- then you also have things that fly from water airports for sea planes.

Since I know Vancouver well I'll use this area as an example.

Vancouver has YVR which is Vancouver International Airport and it is found in Richmond, not Vancouver which can make it a little confusing. YVR ha the main terminal and the South terminal. The main terminal is where all the international flights and some domestic flights will depart and arrive from the major carriers. The South terminal is where the smaller regional carriers fly out of who mostly just fly around BC or they'll go to the oil fields in Alberta. There's also a commercial and private airport in the same area. Now downtown Vancouver has a water airport at Canada Place where the sea planes fly out of.

About an hour away there is also the Langley Regional Airport, Abbotsford International Airport, and if you cross the border then you'll find Bellingham International Airport with all the US discount carriers like Allegiant.

Let's just focus back on Vancouver. Like most cities that are relatively close together Vancouver International Airport and Abbotsford International Airport do have some flights that go to the same destinations so the easiest way to differentiate the two is by price. Flights out of YVR are generally more expensive than flights out of Abbotsford because of the different fees included in the ticket price. Plus the discount airline carriers usually fly out of Abbotsford but not YVR because they can fly out of a smaller airport at a lower price due to the different fee structures. This is also the same sort of idea with London City Airport versus London Heathrow Airport and LaGuardia versus JFK for example.

Now for me, I've grown up in the area and sold flights so I just happen to know about the airports and the differences but as someone that has not sold travel or are wanting to improve their travel skills, how would you know this information?

Well, the easiest way would be to use a travel booking site like Expedia or Google Flights. For these sites you can start typing the city name and if there's more than one airport, they will autofill or suggest other options below what you're typing. These options will usually feature a random, while what seems random, three letter code in brackets beside the name. For example, I'll use Expedia. If I type in Vancouver, then below it I get Vancouver (YVR - all airports) then below it I have Vancouver (YVR - Vancouver International). Below that I have Vancouver (CXH - Vancouver harbour seaplane base) and then I also have Abbotsford (YXX - Abbotsford international).

Now to make things a bit more confusing, sometimes cities have their own three letter code and the airport's three letter code will be different. In the drop down if you noticed YVR was both the entire area as well as the main airport. Now if we looked at Toronto, this is a bit different. Toronto's (YTO - all airport) then you have Toronto (YZZ - Pearson's international), Toronto (YTZ - Billy Bishop Toronto City) and then you also get Hamilton and Kitchener which are even further away than Toronto. Now Toronto has the same issue as Vancouver where Toronto Pearson's is actually in Mississauga and Billy Bishop is in downtown Toronto. However, pretty much everyone flies into Pearson's and Billy Bishop is for the smaller or discount carriers. Now let's backtrack a little bit as these three letter codes that I’m using might be a little confusing.

These three letter codes for example, YYZ or YVR is the airport or the city's IATA code. I won't get too deep into IATA, but if you're interested in learning more I have a great article on my website about them. I add IATA is basically an international body that oversees most of the flight traffic around the world so when a new airport opens up, it assigns a special three letter code.

Most of these codes make sense around the world but for some reason in Canada, all of ours start with Y and the following two letters make even less sense. Earlier in this episode, you may have heard me say YVR; this is the airport code for Vancouver International Airport. JFK is the airport code for John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. LHR is London Heathrow Airport in the UK. DUB is Dublin and Ireland, some people mistake it for Dubai. But either way, these make a lot more sense than YYZ which is Toronto Pearson's in Toronto or YUL which is Montreal in Quebec.

Now I don't make the rules, I just follow them but let's get back to figuring out the airports.

So if you do see these autofill options pop up. You do want to be a bit careful because if you know where you're flying to and then you enter a specific airport you are flying out of it may not fly to the destination you want to go to so no flights will appear. For example, if I want to go to Cape Town, South Africa and I put in YXX which is for Abbotsford then I may not be able to select Cape Town as my destination or it might come back and say that no flights are available for my dates. This is why if I'm using one of these sites, Expedia or Google Flights, I prefer to put my departure city and not the airport unless I know for sure that the specific airport code I'm using is where I actually need to fly out of. If you just put the city instead of the airport, then the search engine will look at all the flights that has an agreement to sell and the airports in the area to get you to your location and provide you with the best options.

Now I'll keep using Expedia as my example and you can follow along if you would like. So if I enter Toronto is my departure City and New York is my arrival city. I'll just pick some random dates and now I have a bunch of flight options.

On the left hand side you will see the departure time than hyphen arrival time. Now just below that you will see Toronto (YYZ) - Newark (EWR). So this flight is from Toronto, Pearson's to Newark in New Jersey but if you scroll down you'll see a few flights that list New York (LGA) which is LaGuardia, and another that says New York(JFK) which is the closest airport to Manhattan.

Now I know this from experience, but if you had no idea at all, as to which airport would work for you then what you can do is you can click on each flight. It'll take you to the next page and you will see a blue “show details”. This will tell you the actual name of the airport and then you can pop them into Google or Apple Maps and see where the airport is located in relation to where you want to be. You can also look at how far away the airport is and how long it will take you to drive so if you decide it might be worthwhile to pay for a cheaper flight into a different airport that's further away than your destination and then cabbing or ride sharing in to where you need to go.

Now lets look at a flight with connections, I’ll enter in leaving from Victoria going to Dubrovnik lets say and lets see what comes up. Well, the days I’ve picked so not have flights so I have to pick a different set of dates aaaannnnd Expedia is suggesting I leave four days earlier. And still cannot find flights. Okay, let's do something simpler. We'll do Vancouver to Manchester, UK and I'll select the top option which also looks at options including Liverpool which it says is 39 kilometers away.

Okay, shoot. Okay, um they don't have any connections that I'm looking for but if you look at the Expedia page, on the left, it shows the departure time hyphen, arrival time then there's a little red plus one or plus two, which means you're arriving one or two days later than your departure date. Then below that you will see Vancouver (YVR) - Manchester (MAN) and to the right of that it will list how many stops in which city as well as the airports you'll be stopping in. If you click on the line, then the blue “show details” it will show the specifics of the flight but none of these are the example I'm looking for.

So the reason I picked Manchester is because when you're flying into London if you're flying from Canada on a discount carrier like Air Transat, you would typically fly from Vancouver to Montreal, than Montreal to London City but if your flight to Manchester was on a carrier like British Airways, you would typically typically have to transfer from London City to London Heathrow, which on a good day is an hour and a half drive. If there are any accidents on the M4 then you're looking at hours of just sitting there and probably missing your flights. I was hoping to find one of these so that I could highlight to you how the airport name and the code was different for the arrival and departure airports but unfortunately, they did not have this in the example.

Anyway, so yes when you are using any website to book your flights or you are a travel agent and you're using a system like Sabre or Apollo, make sure that the city codes match when it comes to connecting flights or you will want to pull your hair out if you book the wrong locations!

I once booked my own flight where the hotel was in Miami but our flight was out of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood Airport because I did not pay attention to the city code. Luckily I could cancel the hotel and the Brightline Train had its opening weekend that weekend but that's the story of how I ended up spending a weekend in Fort Lauderdale instead of Miami. Sure the hotel and flights were cheaper but the money I saved on the flights ended up going to the cost of train tickets and taxis from the airport and to.

One thing I will do if you're a listener and would like to see a physical list of what city has which airports I'll work to put a reference sheet together in the coming days and I'll pop it onto so you can download it and use it for your own reference.

As always, there are so many topics and if you are interested in anything or would like to know more about something, do not hesitate to let me know as I would be more than happy to either go over them in a podcast or if it makes more sense than as an article on

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Thanks again for listening and until next week. Safe travels!