If there is one thing air travelers should consider when planning their trips it’s alternative airports. My family recently had the opportunity to tour and explore Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport (MKE), a medium-sized airport only 45 minutes from north Chicago. What we found was an easy-to-navigate airport, competitive airfare, local restaurants and a family-friendly environment. Below are some highlights of MKE that make it a remarkable Chicago airport alternative.
Easy in and out. Milwaukee’s traffic doesn’t come anywhere close to Chicago‘s heavy congestion, which means MKE is easy to get in and out of. Just remember that holidays bring more passengers regardless of the airport, so plan accordingly. The Friday we visited we found parking to be a breeze and once inside the airport it was very easy to find our way around. We appreciated that MKE is equipped with moving walkways — especially helpful when you’re traveling with children or grandparents who tire easily.
Affordable flights. Airfare is $78 less than the national average when flying out of MKE. But that’s not all, there are several discount airlines to choose from including Southwest Airlines. As an added bonus, Southwest doesn’t charge for checked bags.
Train service. Because a car isn’t necessary in Chicago, passengers flying into MKE can opt for train service via Amtrak Hiawatha (seven round-trips daily/six on Sunday). Service runs between downtown Milwaukee’s Intermodal Station and Chicago’s Union Station with stops at the Milwaukee Airport and Sturtevant in Wisconsin and Glenview in Illinois. The Milwaukee Airport Railroad Station is a 1,600 square-foot heated facility with a seating area and restrooms.
Family friendly. When I worked in the airlines I never understood why airports didn’t work harder to accommodate families. There is nothing more dreadful than traveling with children and having a delayed flight. Most airports don’t have any activities or play areas for children (and watching the action on the tarmac will only hold their attention for so long). There are three concourses in MKE and each terminal has an area for the kids to be kids. In Concourse D families will particularly like the spacious play area and adjoining family bathroom complete with a kid-sized potty and sink, a realistic looking “stone” floor and changing table.
Local fare: When passing through an airport I always keep an eye out for restaurants offering local food specialties and in Concourse D there are a couple of excellent choices. Usinger’s is a classic Wisconsin restaurant known for its famous sausages and bratwurst but also serves a variety of other fresh sandwiches and salads (I highly recommend the bratwurst in a pretzel bun). Milwaukee’s own Italian restaurant Nonna Bartolotta is also available for a nice sit down meal. As for caffeine…Alterra, a local coffee chain, is found in the main terminal and Concourses C and D. Miller Brewhouse is located in the main terminal and right across the way is Northpoint where you can pick up a burger and fries or a custard cone – a fun treat for the kids.
Great shopping: Expect a wide choice of shopping in the main terminal including House of Harley-Davidson, PGA Tour, CNBC, Brooks Brothers and the one I was most enthralled by, Renaissance Books a huge used book store (see below)!
Mitchell Gallery of Flight. You don’t have to be an aviation enthusiast to enjoy the Gallery of Flight Museum. The extensive displays include artifacts, memorabilia, photographs, artwork and model airplanes each celebrating airline history and Milwaukee County and Wisconsin aviation pioneers. The museum is located on the concession level of General Mitchell International Airport near the C concourse. Look to the left of security next to the CNBC store.
As you can see, choosing an alternative airport can be highly beneficial for reasons including lower airfare, less stress, shorter security lines and an overall pleasant experience. The next time you’re looking for a flight in or out of Chicago, I suggest you consider Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport (MKE) as a Chicago airport alternative.