The great thing about the USA is that it is big and the bad thing about the USA is that it is… big. Forget about leaving in the morning for your meeting in Kansas City and being back at night. Just forget.
Let's dig a bit
USA geography 101 : the US alone are more or less the same size as the entire Europe and France is the size of Texas, Seattle is at the latitude of Paris and Houston the one from the middle of Marocco. Climates care widely different throughout the country and there are 4 time zones in the continent alone.
Transportation wise :
Lots of airports. The major ones, called the ‘hubs’ are the ‘Port of Entries’ / international and have a primary airline that uses it to dispatch passengers. Then there are the little ones that serve the smaller cities. My pick below. Vocabulary note here : if travelling from the west to the east coast, you can take the so called ‘red eye’ flights. It is an overnight flight and you will look like a bloody eye bunny on arrival.
The train exists – the Amtrak. The slow train, diesel trains (yes), exists between major cities. Patience will be key but it is an adventure. There is kind of a high-speed train between Washington DC and Boston. Pretty nice actually.
Driving. Of course you can drive everywhere and sometimes you will have no choice.
Strategizing your flights
Let’s talk about your itinerary strategy. Airports are not all born equal and you have to have a strategy. A few tips :
Criteria 1 : your primary airline. You should have a primary airline so that apart from freezing this first criteria, you can pile miles up and somehow one day you get a free flight, get upgraded and access the executive lounges and brag about it.
Criteria 2 : the season. The US have winter and summer storm seasons and a hurricane season. The winter storms impact the schedule of the Chicago / Boston / DC triangle airports from January to March. The summer storms – from June to august - usually screw up the afternoon / evening schedule of all of the East Coast airports. The Hurricane season – September / October – will affect all the South East airports.
Criteria 3 : the size of your plane. The big airplanes, usually international, have the priority. It is definitely different to land in New York from Europe with an A380 from connecting with a 20-seat plane.
Criteria 4 : do you really need a connection ? Sometimes it is faster to drive to your final destination than waiting / flying…
A sudden interest for sustainability
While Americans have sparkly shining new cars compared to Europeans, airline companies have adopted an ‘I am going to use my plane until the end of time’ model. The American domestic flight fleet comes straight out of the 90’s. You will often see some interesting animals like the Boing 757's and the MD88 or 90's - not only on short 1h flight but also on some 4h flight. Unless you are deaf, I highly recommend the noise cancelling headphones… and some warm socks.
Last note : some planes are that small than the carry on suitcases do not fit in the overhead compartment.
Tip : if you know you are blessed to get such a plane, trade your suitcase for a bag to avoid dropping it at the plane entry and having to wait to get it back ;) By the way, overall avoid checking suitcase, not only you will save the checking price but you will get freedom to change itinerary during your connection.
Atlanta : biggest airport in the world but you can connect in 11 minutes. Yes you can.
Charlotte : so simple and short connection. Good East coast alternative. Nice food option.
Philadelphia : not that I like it but it is a good connection alternative to New York to go to Europe
Boston : fastest trip to Europe and easy connection. The Delta and Air France operating planes are in different terminal though so check the operator.
Houston Hobby : 2 airports in Houston and if you can and if you have to go in the South or South East of Houston, avoid the Bush airport and use this one.
To be avoided
To name just one city to avoid: New York. JFK is somehow better equipped than Newark and La Guardia but the customs and security check are excessively long and the walk is really long. If your trip ends up there, well you have to but if you connect, as you still have to go through custom / check your bag / security again, there are a lot of chances to miss your second flight and/or that your patience reaches the limit, especially if you are travelling with a kid from Europe.