The U.S. Airports Americans Love, and Love to Hate

The latest study from J.D. Power proves something you might have already suspected: Air travelers aren’t too happy.  The 2019 North America Airport Satisfaction Study found that travelers’ satisfaction with domestic airports plateaued this year amidst widespread delays and crowds. According to the findings, the halt in passenger satisfaction comes after several years of rapid growth.

The main culprit is probably not what you’d expect: Improvements. “With major terminal construction projects now underway [at] many airports, it is becoming impossible for travelers not to experience some form of disruption,” said Michael Taylor, Travel Intelligence Lead at J.D. Power.

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“While these projects are absolutely necessary to address surging demand, they are currently causing passenger delays and confusion. This translates into a rushed passenger experience and less money spent on food, beverage, and retail—and it’s slowing the progress of the airport satisfaction we’ve seen in the past several years.”

The Best and Worst U.S. Airports, According to Americans

So which are the culprits, and which U.S. airports are widely liked? J.D Power mentions Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, and Atlanta as airports currently undergoing “major construction projects.” LAX is a notoriously traffic- and delay-addled airport, with a massive renovation currently underway that’s aiming to alleviate airport traffic in the future. A five-year traffic improvement project is also underway in Boston, and a $1.2 billion revamp of Chicago O’Hare that will run until 2021 began this year. America’s largest airport, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, is well into an expansion project that will last until 2022.

J.D. Power says the stagnant growth in U.S. airport satisfaction comes from airports trying to improve. According to the ranking, larger numbers of travelers cited “construction-related delays getting into and out of the airport” among their gripes.

As for the U.S. airports that customers are actually satisfied with, J.D Power names the following top three winners for overall customer satisfaction:

  1. Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW)
  2. Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (MSP)
  3. Orlando International Airport (MCO) and Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (LAS) tied for third

The top three large airports and medium airports for customer satisfaction, respectively, are: Portland, Oregon (PDX), Dallas Love Field (DAL), Tampa International (TPA); and Indianapolis International (IND), Jacksonville International (JAX), and Buffalo Niagara (BUF).

The flip side of the construction dissatisfaction issue is that the top-performing airports are all newer or recently renovated facilities that have emerged from their construction phases with the services and ease of access travelers want. J.D. Power suggests that this means there’s certainly a “light at the end of the tunnel” for broader airport satisfaction.

In addition to airport renovations, J.D. Power sees promise for biometric screening. The study showed a five-point increase in security satisfaction due to “improved TSA processing and more widespread adoption of biometric screening technologies” that streamline the process. So it’s safe to assume that expanded automated security screenings are going to be part of those upcoming new-and-improved airports, too.

Readers: Is your local airport undergoing some amount of construction? (Is your local airport always undergoing some amount of construction?) How has this affected your airport experience over the past year?

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By Carl Unger

Contributing Editor Carl Unger believes that every trip is worth taking. He loves an extended trip to Europe as much as he enjoys exploring the towns and landscape near home. Basically, you'll find him wherever there is good food, fresh air, and plenty of stories to bring home.

Carl has been writing for SmarterTravel since 2005. His travel writing has also appeared on USA Today and the Boston travel guide.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: "It's not revolutionary, but a small Moleskine notebook is my one travel must-have. It's great for noting things you want to remember and it takes up hardly any space in your bag."

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