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The 'other' New York airport that's making a splashy comeback

Feb. 02, 2022
9 min read
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A simple Kayak search for flights between the New York City area and Orlando might leave you surprised.

Unless you look carefully, you might be about to purchase a ticket from an airport you might've never heard of: Stewart International Airport (SWF) in Orange County, New York.

Located roughly 70 miles northwest of Manhattan, Stewart isn’t one of the “Big 3” NYC-area airports — LaGuardia, JFK and Newark — that are most popular with the region’s travelers.

Though its physical footprint is larger than Newark’s, only two airlines, Allegiant and Frontier, serve Stewart at the moment.

But, that’s about to change.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

This summer, the airport is slated to get its first international flights since before the pandemic. Icelandic low-cost carrier Play recently announced plans to add New York Stewart as its third U.S. destination, after Baltimore/Washington and Boston.

The new international service is putting Stewart on the map once again, two years after the pandemic started having an outsized effect on connectivity at smaller airports.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

“This is really special. I mean, this is really unique. It's not every day that an airline says we're going to start, trans-Atlantic flying from your airport,” said Alex Minton, manager of air service development and industry relations at the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, which has been responsible for overseeing Stewart since it took over the operating contract in 2007.

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Putting Stewart on the map (and in the search engine)

Before the pandemic, Stewart was a rising star in the Port Authority’s portfolio.

It was more than just a popular diversion airport during severe weather events, such as when a Singapore Airlines Airbus A380 double-decker landed there for the first time during a blizzard in January 2018.

In 2019, the airport had hub connectivity with American (to Philadelphia) and Delta (to Detroit), along with point-to-point flying on Allegiant and JetBlue.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Norwegian Air Shuttle had even become the airport’s “anchor tenant.” At its peak, the airline was flying daily service from Shannon, Ireland (SNN); and Edinburgh, Scotland (EDI); as well as twice-daily flights from Dublin (DUB) all aboard the fuel-efficient Boeing 737 MAX.

When the jet was grounded globally, Norwegian’s Stewart service faced a big setback. The airline subbed other aircraft on certain routes and suspended others indefinitely. Then, facing growing losses, Norwegian decided to pull out of Stewart entirely in late 2019.

The news didn't get any better for Stewart. Months later, the pandemic came stateside, causing Delta and JetBlue to pull their flights.

Though its connectivity was pared down, the Port Authority was already in the midst of building a new $37 million, 20,000-square-foot international arrivals facility at Stewart, which was originally designed for Norwegian.

Construction ultimately wrapped up at the height of the pandemic in November 2020. With Norwegian long gone, it was a gloomy outlook for Stewart and its new international arrivals hall.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

But Minton had been hard at work in the background trying to make Stewart relevant again.

He had recently worked with the major third-party booking platforms, like Expedia and Orbitz, to get Stewart (SWF) to show up as an “NYC” airport, a major win in his book.

"When we had international service here, we worked to get 'SWF' in the 'NYC' booking designation... Now, if you put in Iceland [as your destination], Stewart will likely be closer to the top, because it will probably have the lowest fare," he said.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

He also emailed Play’s CEO when he heard they were launching U.S. flights to sell him on serving Stewart.

His efforts culminated on Feb. 1, 2022, when Play made its official announcement that it’s adding a new route-map pin in New York Stewart.

The airline will operate daily service to Keflavik, Iceland (KEF), with plenty of one-stop connections to seven cities in Europe, including Paris and Berlin.

Play is marketing Stewart as an alternative to flying to the congested Newark or JFK airports.

The airline says that reduced taxiway congestion, shorter immigration and customs lines and a faster baggage handling system will mean that the total time from arrival in Stewart to your final destination in New York City will be similar to arriving during rush hour in Kennedy or Newark.

The infrastructure is more modern...

Turns out, the airline isn't playing around.

The new international arrivals facility is indeed a major improvement. Before the pandemic, long-haul travelers would need to pass through a temporary facility with a retractable wall to clear customs and immigration.

Now, flyers will be greeted by a large mural of the Hudson Valley and New York City, updated signage and modernized facilities, including new restrooms built in the Port Authority's latest design standards.

A fully loaded Airbus A321neo should be cleared in about 30 minutes, Minton said. That's a massive time savings compared to clearing immigration in one of the busy halls in Newark or JFK.

... but getting there can be an adventure

But despite the time savings on arrival, getting to and from the airport may be the hardest — and most expensive — part of your journey.

More than anything, don’t be fooled by the mural of the Manhattan skyline in Stewart’s new international arrivals area — you won’t catch your first real glimpse of the skyscrapers until much later in your journey.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Stewart isn’t readily accessible with any existing rail links, and the Port Authority knows that. That’s why the agency has partnered with Hudson Transit Lines to offer a nonstop bus service conveniently timed with international departures and arrivals for flyers headed to or from Manhattan.

Priced at $20 for adults and $10 for children, the bus connection will be an invaluable option for tourists visiting the city.

But, the bus is only as good as its destination: the Port Authority Bus Terminal on 42nd Street and 8th Avenue In Manhattan.

If Midtown isn’t in your plans, or you’re headed to another borough, Stewart definitely may not be right for you.

Personally, when I visited the airport for the Play announcement, I took an Uber to the airport. Priced at over $200, the 90-minute drive from my lower Manhattan apartment was expensive and took a while.

It almost felt like I had driven to Philadelphia, except that the airport had fewer flights and it wasn’t selling any soft pretzels or cheesesteaks.

In fact, the only snacks available at the check-in area were located in a small vending machine. King-size M&Ms were available for $3.25 — the same price as in JFK's Terminal 5.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

On the way home, I caught a ride to the Metro-North train station in Beacon, New York, where I hopped on the next train bound for Manhattan. The 15-minute drive, along with the $17.50 off-peak one-way fare, and then a $2.75 subway ride from Grand Central to Union Square had me wishing that the nonstop bus service was already available.

That said, those who live closer to Stewart or who are renting cars or planning to park at the airport will find it infinitely more convenient than navigating the stress of New York’s largest airports.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

After all, long-term parking, located just steps from the terminal, maxes out at $12 per day. At LaGuardia, that number jumps to $45, and you may even need to take a bus to get to your terminal.

Local residents can fill flights, too

Stewart’s appeal isn’t limited to price-conscious travelers headed to or from New York City, or those looking to save on parking.

There are three million people who live within 30 to 40 miles of the Stewart airport, according to Minton. And that population travels a lot, he told TPG.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

"In 2019, we have data that shows that this catchment generated almost five million trips," he said.

Most of the area's residents are traveling through other nearby airports, whether it's the "Big 3" near NYC, or through Westchester (HPN), Hartford (BDL) or Albany (ALB).

"If you live within 30 or 40 miles of Stewart, you're taking two or three trips a year. You're probably spending an hour and a half on the road and then however much you're spending to park," Minton added.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Plus, there are some popular destinations near Stewart that could attract tourists to this area, including the nation's largest Legoland theme park and the Woodbury Common Premium Outlets.

That's why the Port Authority has been working to educate key decision-makers about Stewart’s catchment area as it pitches new airline services.

Sure, there are plenty of international travelers who are looking to save a few bucks to make the trek from Orange County, New York, to Manhattan, but there are plenty more in the airport's backyard who could use more convenient flight connections.

"We're really going out and educating people on the benefit of the facility, the efficiency and about the catchment area," he said.

As Minton and his team look toward the future, they're excited about the prospect of adding more airlines at Stewart. Norse Atlantic Airways is poised to become the second international carrier at the airport, as the airline has already received approval to add nonstop service from Norway to Stewart.

What's next is anyone's guess, but Stewart Airport is making a comeback.

Featured image by (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • The current welcome offer on this card is quite lucrative. TPG values it at $1,600.
  • This card comes with a long list of benefits, including access to Centurion Lounges, complimentary elite status with Hilton and Marriott, at least $500 in assorted annual statement credits and so much more. (Enrollment required for select benefits.)
  • The Amex Platinum comes with access to a premium concierge service that can help you with everything from booking hard-to-get reservations to finding destination guides to help you plan out your next getaway.

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  • The high annual fee is only worth it if you’re taking full advantage of the card’s benefits. Seldom travelers may not get enough value to warrant the cost.
  • Outside of the current welcome bonus, you’re only earning higher rewards on specific airfare and hotel purchases, so it’s not a great card for other spending categories.
  • The annual airline fee statement credit can be complicated to take advantage of compared to the broader travel credits offered by competing premium cards.
  • Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Apply and select your preferred metal Card design: classic Platinum Card®, Platinum x Kehinde Wiley, or Platinum x Julie Mehretu.
  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year and earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
  • Get $200 back in statement credits each year on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection bookings, which requires a minimum two-night stay, through American Express Travel when you pay with your Platinum Card®.
  • $240 Digital Entertainment Credit: Get up to $20 back each month on eligible purchases made with your Platinum Card® on one or more of the following: Audible, Disney+, The Disney Bundle, ESPN+, Hulu, Peacock, SiriusXM, and The New York Times. Enrollment required.
  • $155 Walmart+ Credit: Cover the cost of a $12.95 monthly Walmart+ membership with a statement credit after you pay for Walmart+ each month with your Platinum Card. Cost includes $12.95 plus applicable local sales tax. Plus Ups are excluded.
  • American Express has expanded The Centurion® Network to include 40+ Centurion Lounge and Studio locations worldwide. There are even more places your Platinum Card® can get you complimentary entry and exclusive perks.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one select qualifying airline.
  • $200 Uber Cash: Enjoy Uber VIP status and up to $200 in Uber savings on rides or eats orders in the US annually. Uber Cash and Uber VIP status is available to Basic Card Member only.
  • Get up to $300 back per calendar year on the Equinox+ digital fitness app, or eligible Equinox club memberships when you pay with your Platinum Card. Enrollment required. Learn more.
  • Breeze through security with CLEAR® lanes available at 100+ airports, stadiums, and entertainment venues and get up to $189 back per calendar year on your membership when you use your Card. Learn more.
  • $695 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees