After having “non-rev” privileges with Southwest Airlines, Christy dove into the world of points and miles so she could continue traveling for free. Her other passion is personal finance, and is a cer...
Edited by: Kellie Jez
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While the airports in the U.S. typically rank lower than many international airports for overall satisfaction and accessibility of public transit, there is still much to be said about the quality of U.S. airports.
In fact, many studies show that the overall satisfaction at U.S. airports is at its highest level ever!
Everyone has their favorite (or least favorite) airport to visit. But when you look at the cold, hard facts, which are considered the best and worst?
Upgraded Points took a comprehensive look at 60 airports across the U.S., compiling data from multiple sources to pick definitive winners and losers.
The main categories that we considered in our calculations were:
While the weights we assigned to various categories are subjective, we have extensive data to back up our results.
Most travelers don’t have much choice in departure airport. You live where you live.
At least you know now whether to count yourself lucky or if you’ve earned the hour of complaining you’ll dole out to friends when you return from your next trip.
So how do the airports in the U.S. stack up against each other?
Let’s get right to it!
Most of these airports come as no surprise and are shown in descending order starting with the best of the bunch.
Portland International Airport has been consistently ranked by numerous publications as the best domestic airport many years in a row.
This airport achieved recognition as the best for the ease of their check-in and security, dining options with local favorites such as Stumptown Coffee and Blue Star Donuts, access via light rail line straight from downtown Portland, on-time performance, and free Wi-Fi, just to name a few!
Other strong contenders include Denver International Airport, which offers strong public transit options and high overall satisfaction from travelers and San Francisco International Airport, which has some of the best lounges in the U.S.
If you want your flight to leave on time consistently, Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport is a good bet!
For how all of our other top 10 stack in each category, make sure to check out the infographic above.
Starting at the bottom, John Glenn Columbus International Airport came in low across the board.
This airport generally has unsatisfied travelers based on their limited dining selections, security wait times, poor on-time performance, and zero lounge access. The only saving grace appears to be unlimited Wi-Fi.
If you’re planning on your flight being on time, it’s good to avoid LaGuardia Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport. These two airports both average approximately a 30-minute departure delay.
On a positive note, at least these airports have a decent lounge selection for you to kill time in waiting for your flight to depart.
We started with a list of the top 60 airports by volume in the United States for 2017. From there, we compiled numerous data sources (described in more detail below) to come up with our overall rankings.
In the infographic above, we focused on the top and bottom 10 overall, so if you don’t see a particular airport here, know that it’s comfortably in the middle.
We used sources that had data to back them up, so we know there are things we couldn’t factor in, like the strength of routes, opinions of specific airport lounges, or personal airline preferences. We tried to keep this as unbiased as possible.
An overall satisfaction survey was conducted by J.D. Power for January to August of 2017 with responses from 34,695 North American travelers who used 1 or more airports in the U.S. at departure or arrival, including transit within one of the past three months.
Their calculations were carried out by 6 factors:
They ranked the airports on a scale of 1 to 5, so we stayed true to this rating for our calculations.
We weighted this survey so heavily because it includes opinions on categories that aren’t public information, like security checkpoint wait times and baggage claim. TSA does not make historical security wait times public, but they at least allow you to check current wait times on their app.
Hot Tip: Are you still waiting in the security line? Read our in-depth guide on TSA PreCheck!
Also, baggage is included as a part of this survey, but it should be noted that any delayed or lost luggage is typically the responsibility of the airline, not the airport.
We did not attempt to rate the quality of dining and shopping options in any of our data sources, so travelers’ overall satisfaction with those options would be included in this survey as well.
There is nothing more frustrating as a traveler than seeing that Now At… notice on the screen. Except maybe seeing that your flight has been canceled. Some airports are notoriously worse than others for delays and cancellations.
Lounges, great dining options, and free Wi-Fi will only help you so much if you can’t even get off the ground. That’s why we weighted this category second.
For this calculation, we used the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistic’s data from March 2017 – March 2018. We independently ranked each of the 3 categories out of 5 to determine our overall ranking: the average scheduled departure to take off delay in minutes, overall percentage of late flights, and overall percentage of canceled flights.
For example, to get a perfect 5 out of 5 score, the average delay must be less than 5 minutes, the overall percentage of late flights must be less than 13.5%, and the overall percentage of canceled flights must be less than .56%. LaGuardia was one of the worst offenders at over 21% of flights delayed and 3.5% canceled, with an average delay of over 30 minutes.
Note: This data includes departure delays only.
Public transit is where U.S. airports struggle compared to international airports. There are very few airports where it’s quicker and more cost-effective to take public transit than an Uber or taxi. This cost-effectiveness is why we looked at public transit price compared to an Uber fare for this calculation.
We also compared transit times to drive times and took into consideration the number of daily departures from the airports to downtown locations. If you get to the airport and want to take public transit, only to learn that there are 2 daily departures, that doesn’t make it very convenient, does it?
Each airport was ranked from 1 to 5, with a 5 only being awarded to 4 airports. In these instances, it was faster and most cost-effective to take public transit over driving. Those airports are Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), Denver International Airport (DEN), Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW), and Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD).
Some of the least-efficient options are cities that only have buses that connect to the airport. For example, while it only costs a little over a dollar to ride, San Antonio International Airport’s public transit option is 150% slower than driving. Yikes!
To get the data here, we used Google maps for drive times and Uber’s fare estimator. We looked at the airport websites and each city’s public transportation website to determine price and frequency of service. For all of these sources, we used a central location downtown and the same date and time across all cities. We know not everyone goes to a central location, but this was the best way for us to standardize our numbers across the board.
Lounge access is an important factor when planning your routes and layovers. While we didn’t attempt to rank all of the lounges based on quality, we took a look at the total number of lounges at each airport. The more options you have, the more likely that you’ll find something that appeals to you.
We looked at Priority Pass and Centurion Lounge info as well as the various airline and airport websites to determine the number and type of all lounges and assigned a ranking of 1 to 5 depending on the number. Airports with 7 or more lounges received a perfect score, those with 5 to 6 received a 4, and so on.
If you’re interested in reading more about lounges that will be available at the airport you’re traveling from, check out our airport guides section. This way you can ensure an airport has a lounge that’s accessible to you before departure or during your layover.
We weighted this section at 10% because this is a luxury category. While it certainly makes your trip more enjoyable, it isn’t as important as on-time performance.
While we only weighted this at 5%, it’s still important to include. Having Wi-Fi is expected, but many airports are still behind the times (I’m looking at you, Maui!).
Many people count on that time between flights to get a bit of work in or catch up on favorite shows. But if your flight gets delayed or canceled, that unlimited Wi-Fi access becomes even more necessary.
Unlimited access with no time limits earned a perfect score of 5, while those with limited access earned fewer points.
More than half (46 out of 60) airports provide unlimited access or allow for unlimited repeat access, but there are still many airports that only have access in the ticketing areas or allow 30 minutes of time.
We took all of the data above for all 60 airports and weighted it as noted to arrive at our best and worst 10 airports in the U.S. For reference, the best 10 had scores ranging from 3.6 to 4.51, while the bottom 10 came in much lower at 2.03 to 2.49.
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), Orlando International Airport (MCO), Harry Reid International Airport (LAS), Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC), and John Wayne Airport (SNA) were all very close to making the cut coming within .1 of the best 10.
On the flip side, Cincinnati International Airport and Cleveland Hopkins International Airport barely escaped the bottom 10 by less than a point. They’re definitely on our radar!
So, what do you think? Did we get it right? While the data may show one thing, we know it often comes down to personal preference.
What airport is your favorite to fly into? What airport do you avoid at all costs? Do you sacrifice premier lounge access to avoid long delays?
Please let us know in the comments below!
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