Inexpensive domestic and international options—and a hassle-free approach to travel—is making this Orange County hub hotter than ever.
By Mitch Rustad
A good friend of mine from New York City recently went on a glamorous work trip to Europe—his first experience with international travel since the covid pandemic—and when I asked him how it was, he summed it up like this: “Being there was fantastic, but getting there and back was the worst.”
Travel horror stories are nothing new these days, as endless delays, flight cancellations, agonizingly long lines and out of control restrictions—not to mention wildly expensive airfares, no matter how far in advance you book—are making traveling less and less appealing, especially from the greater New York area.
Maybe I was spoiled (or just plain lucky), but when I traveled every week all over the world while working for ATP Tour (men’s professional tennis) in the halcyon pre-pandemic days, I can’t remember any cancelled flight or serious snafus. But having heard one too many nightmare travel stores as of late, I realized something: I had totally closed myself off to the prospect of a quick, fun, spontaneous getaway to revisit some of my favorite European cities. Because just like my friend, I love the idea of being there, but hate the thought of getting there.
But I’m changing my tune thanks to the buzz I’m hearing about New York Stewart International Airport, which has been hiding in plain sight for years. Tucked away in southern Hudson Valley—specifically in New Windsor, NY in Orange County—is a gem located just west of Newburgh, south of Kingston and southwest of Poughkeepsie, and approximately 60 miles north of Manhattan. Headline news? Stewart is fast becoming an ideal gateway for affordable, hassle-free flights to more than 20 major cities in Europe (keep reading).
“The biggest thing about Stewart is that it’s an international airport, and that’s so important for our region,” says Lisa Berger, Director of Ulster County Tourism & Office of Film. “People are finding that Stewart isn’t only easy to get in and out of, but also a nice jumping off point for their vacations. That expands the brand of the Hudson Valley and our ability to attract people enormously.”
Before we dive fully into Stewart’s ever-expanding attributes, some quick history: Stewart was developed in the 1930s as a military base to allow West Point cadets to learn aviation. Though it closed as a US Air Force base in the 1970s, it continues to be used as a military airfield, housing the 105th Airlift Wing of the New York Air National Guard. In 2018, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey rebranded the airport as New York Stewart International Airport to emphasize its proximity to New York City.
Today, Stewart has become a serious option for budget-conscious travelers hungry to shake off post-pandemic blues. The recent launch of Iceland-based PLAY airlines— Europe’s newest low-cost carrier, which debuted its inaugural flight between Stewart and Reykjavík (the airline’s hub and Iceland’s capital city) June 2022—has already been a game changer. While the airline originally offered flights four or five days per week when it commenced, that number is already expanding. “PLAY recently increased its capacity to 192 seats, leaving daily,” says Berger.
In other words, you can hop on a flight from Stewart—with far fewer hassles and headaches than you so often find at the New York City airports Newark, LaGuardia or JFK—and fly to any of the airline’s 22 European destinations including Paris, Berlin, Copenhagen, Dublin, London, Madrid, Barcelona—even Mallorca’s Palma. The airline’s website touts that Euro-bound travelers can “find your perfect flight for less than $300 (USD).” But that’s not all: You’ll find inexpensive parking ($6 per hour), easy to navigate check-in counters and kiosks, free Wi-Fi and duty-free concessions for international travelers, along with a designated pet relief area and handicap services.
Connections to any of the picturesque European destinations are all via exotic Reykjavík. which is itself a spectacular place to visit, with its Northern lights or the midnight sun, lagoons and hot springs, puffin tours, whale watching, glaciers, volcanos and tasting menus. I never thought I’d be tempted to spend a weekend in Iceland, but this certainly sounds spectacular, doesn’t it?
And even European travelers are discovering the convenient appeal of New York Stewart airport as well.
“PLAY’s service has introduced the Hudson Valley/Catskills region to international travelers who otherwise didn’t know about its sights and cultural offerings,” says Alex Minton, C.M, manager, Air Service Development and Industry Relations, The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey.
Better yet, more international expansion is directly on the horizon: This past August, Atlantic Airways, the flag carrier of the Faroe Islands, launched the first nonstop connection between the US and the beautiful Danish island territory off the coast of Iceland and Norway. The Hudson Valley and the Faroes aren’t so dissimilar however—both feature stunning landscapes, top-tier restaurants and amazing destination resorts.
More good news: There are low-fare, hassle-free options for domestic travelers as well. Stewart features Allegiant Air, with service to Florida (Clearwater or Punta Gorda) and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
New York Stewart International Airport features nonstop seasonal service to Florida, including Orlando-Sanford, Punta-Gorda, St. Petersburg-Clearwater and Myrtle Beach, SC via Allegiant Air.