Study reveals the North American airports that travelers find the most — and least — satisfying
Air travel volume is up and passenger satisfaction is down. This comes as no surprise to anyone who passed through an airport over the summer.
The J.D. Power 2022 North America Airport Satisfaction Study, released Wednesday, shows overall satisfaction down 25 points on a 1,000 point scale from the 2021 score. Newark Liberty International Airport had the worst score among mega-airports.
The overall satisfaction score for North American airports in 2022 was 777.
US passenger volume is nearing pre-pandemic levels. On Sunday, the US Transportation Security Administration screened 2,371,992 passengers at airport checkpoints. That figure is 94% of the same weekday in 2019.
But travelers are met with fewer flights, more crowded terminals and limited food and beverage options, the new J.D. Power study says.
“The combination of pent-up demand for air travel, the nationwide labor shortage and steadily rising prices on everything from jet fuel to a bottle of water have created a scenario in which airports are extremely crowded and passengers are increasingly frustrated,” said Michael Taylor, travel intelligence lead at J.D. Power, in a statement.
And Taylor expects this unfortunate set of circumstances to continue through 2023.
The 25-point drop comes on the heels of a record high level of satisfaction with North American airports — 802 on the 1,000-point scale — in last year’s study, which included passenger surveys from the second half of 2020.
But as that survey progressed into 2021, and the third and fourth waves of the study, traveler satisfaction steadily declined as passenger volume crept back up.
The 2022 study was fielded from August 2021 through July 2022 as air travel continued its rebound.
It was based on more than 26,500 surveys from US or Canadian residents who traveled through at least one US or Canadian airport during the past 30 days. Travelers evaluated either a departing or arriving airport from their round-trip journey.
The study, now in its 17th year, looks at traveler satisfaction with airports in three categories: mega-airports, large airports and medium airports.
Satisfaction is determined by looking at six factors, listed in order of importance: terminal facilities, airport arrival/departure, baggage claim, security check, check-in/baggage check, and food, beverage and retail.
So which airports are the most satisfying to travelers? And which fall way short?
Most and least satisfying North American mega-airports
Among the mega-airports evaluated in the study — those airports with 33 million or more passengers per year — Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport ranks highest in customer satisfaction with a score of 800 out of 1,000.
The airport’s updated terminal facilities helped it earn the top spot for satisfaction, according to Taylor. Construction and renovations last year showed up in this year’s results, he said.
While some improvement projects are still underway, the airport had comparatively smooth summer operations, noted Kathleen Bangs, a spokesperson for flight tracking site FlightAware who used to work for the Minneapolis-St. Paul airports commission.
“Even while undergoing numerous ongoing construction and upgrade projects this summer, MSP has enjoyed better delays and cancellation numbers than some other airports in its size category,” Bangs told CNN Travel in late August in response to questions about summer airport performance. She put that down to management and possibly fewer storms than some other big airports experienced.
San Francisco International Airport (with a score of 796) and Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (791) were also among the top airports in the satisfaction study.
At the bottom of the mega-airport list is Newark Liberty International Airport, with a score of 719 out of 1,000.
Airports undergoing construction and major renovations typically score poorly for terminal facilities, Taylor said.
Newark’s $2.7 billion Terminal A overhaul is expected to open later this year, and there are big plans to improve the food, beverage and retail offerings in the new terminal.
“But those improvements won’t be available to passengers for some time. Rome wasn’t built in a day … and neither are new airport terminals,” Taylor said via email.
Newark earning the lowest level of satisfaction among the largest airports is likely no surprise to summer travelers. High levels of cancellations and delays plagued the airport over the busy summer season.
Also at the bottom of the list: O’Hare International Airport in Chicago (751) and Los Angeles International Airport (753).
Most and least satisfying North American large and medium airports
Among the large airports — those with 10 million to 32.9 million passengers per year — Tampa International Airport ranked highest for customer satisfaction with a score of 846 out of 1,000.
John Wayne Airport, Orange County in California (826) and Dallas Love Field (825) also ranked highly.
At the bottom of the large airports list was Philadelphia International Airport (729).
Among medium airports — those with 4.5 to 9.9 million passengers per year — Indianapolis International Airport ranked highest with a score of 842 out of 1,000.
Pittsburgh International Airport (839) and Jacksonville International Airport (826) ranked second and third for satisfaction.
Hollywood Burbank Airport in California was at the bottom of the list of medium airports for traveler satisfaction, with a score of 763.
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