AFAR Readers Reveal Their Favorite U.S. Airports

We asked you to tell us which airports you love, and Atlanta, Portland, and Raleigh-Durham topped the lists.

AFAR Readers Reveal Their Favorite U.S. Airports

One Flew South serves cocktails, sushi, pork belly sliders, and pulled duck sandwiches at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, which AFAR readers picked as their favorite mega U.S. airport.

Courtesy of One Flew South

Just in time for the busy holiday travel season, we asked AFAR readers to weigh in on their favorite airports across the country. The results spotlighted hubs in the South, West, and Midwest, while some of the large coastal airports didn’t make it as high up on our lists.

Our reader poll came after we reported on the J.D. Power 2018 North America Airport Satisfaction Study this past September, a survey based on feedback from more than 40,000 travelers. Social media responses to that article revealed that a lot of travelers didn’t necessarily agree with the results (and that’s putting it kindly). So, we decided to put together our own list.

We surveyed readers on their favorite airports across four different categories: mega, large, medium, and small. Just as with the J.D. Power survey, we defined mega airports as those handling more than 32.5 million passengers annually; large as airports with 10 million to 32.4 million passengers annually; and medium as airports that handle between 3 million and 9.9 million passengers each year.

Small airports was not a category included in the J.D. Power survey, but we wanted to acknowledge some of the overlooked (and often beloved), more remote and regional airfields throughout the country.

Favorite Mega U.S. Airports

  1. Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport
  2. Denver International Airport
  3. San Francisco International Airport
  4. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport
  5. Detroit Metro Airport
  6. Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport
  7. Orlando International Airport
  8. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport
  9. Chicago O’Hare International Airport
  10. John F. Kennedy International Airport

Among the country’s most bustling airports, AFAR readers put Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport at the top of their list. With just under 104 million passengers passing through its terminals last year, Atlanta was deemed the world’s busiest airport in 2017 by the Airport Council International’s World Traffic Report. But it has a lot more going for it than just sheer numbers of passengers. For one, the airport has been seriously stepping up its culinary game of late. Its more than 100 food and beverage establishments include acclaimed upscale American restaurant One Flew South, located in Concourse E, as well as a Shake Shack in Concourse A, and the newly opened Bobby’s Burger Palace (celebrity chef Bobby Flay’s first airport eatery) in Concourse B. It also has an ambitious art program that gives the airport an added edge over the competition.

An example of some of the artwork on display throughout the Atlanta airport.

An example of some of the artwork on display throughout the Atlanta airport.

Courtesy of Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport

Courtesy of Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport
An example of some of the artwork on display throughout the Atlanta airport.

Atlanta was followed by Denver International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. The highest-ranking Tri-State region mega airport was New York’s John F. Kennedy International, which came in at 10th place. And Los Angeles International Airport was 15th.

Those results were very different from the J.D. Power findings, which had Las Vegas McCarran International Airport and Orlando International Airport tied for first place, rankings that bewildered some.

“I fly 50-plus flights a year and a lot through LAS [Las Vegas]—no way LAS is #1. It’s [a] rough flight in and out and delayed almost every time. Concession[s] are horrible, but hey there are slot machines,” wrote one commenter to a Points Guy Facebook share of the AFAR article.

“Las Vegas??? Food choices are dismal at best. Who are they surveying? What about those of us that travel every week?” another chimed in.

Orlando didn’t escape criticism either. “Orlando is one of the worst airports I’ve ever stepped foot in, worldwide,” contributed another commenter.

While AFAR readers didn’t place Las Vegas McCarran International Airport anywhere near the top of their list, they didn’t leave it off entirely either—it ranked 12th among mega airports. Orlando ranked seventh.

Favorite Large U.S. Airports

  1. Portland (OR) International Airport
  2. Honolulu International Airport
  3. Tampa International Airport
  4. Orange County John Wayne Airport
  5. Chicago Midway International Airport
  6. San Diego International Airport
  7. Washington Ronald Reagan International Airport
  8. Nashville International Airport
  9. Washington Dulles International Airport
  10. Austin-Bergstrom International Airport

When it comes to large airports, our readers’ top pick was Oregon’s Portland International Airport, followed by Honolulu International Airport, Tampa International Airport, and Orange County John Wayne Airport.
The Portland airport traditionally gets high marks for its solid locally influenced eateries, and it also boasts a recently opened in-house movie theater. In keeping with the “keep Portland weird” ethos, the airport’s flooring even has a following—the carpet has its own Instagram account and hashtag.

View this post on Instagram Been waiting my whole Instagram life to take this carpet photo. And yes, I planned my footwear accordingly. Excited to explore #Portland for the first time! A post shared by Karen Palmer (@karenlpalmer) on Sep 26, 2018 at 3:57pm PDT

Despite its ranking of last on the J.D. Power list of large airports, AFAR’s survey participants seemed to be more forgiving of New York’s LaGuardia International Airport, which is in the midst of a major overhaul. LaGuardia ranked 15th on the AFAR list, with New Orleans, Oakland, Houston, and Kansas City airports all ranking below it.

Favorite Mid-Sized U.S. Airports

  1. Raleigh-Durham International Airport
  2. Indianapolis International Airport
  3. Charleston International Airport
  4. San Jose International Airport
  5. Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport
  6. Pittsburgh International Airport
  7. Albuquerque International Airport
  8. Jacksonville International Airport
  9. Maui Kahului Airport
  10. Hollywood Burbank Airport

For favorite mid-sized airports, Raleigh-Durham International Airport received the most votes from AFAR readers, followed by Indianapolis International Airport, Charleston International Airport, and San Jose International Airport.
Raleigh’s largest terminal, Terminal 2, benefits from the fact that it is relatively new, having been completed in 2011. The airport houses some reliable chain eateries, including Starbucks, Five Guys, and California Pizza Kitchen, as well as one standout sit-down option, 42nd Street Oyster Bar & Seafood Grill. Complimentary Wi-Fi throughout both terminals offers 45 minutes of free connectivity. Terminal 2 also offers an XpressSpa and meditation room; just outside the terminals is an Observation Park, complete with a small play area and a raised platform for watching planes take off and land.

RDU's main terminal, Terminal 2, is the lifeblood of this popular North Carolina hub.

RDU’s main terminal, Terminal 2, is the lifeblood of this popular North Carolina hub.

Courtesy of the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority

Favorite Small U.S. Airports

  1. Palm Springs International Airport
  2. Long Beach Airport
  3. Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport
  4. Jackson Hole Airport
  5. Providence T.F. Green Airport
  6. Bellingham International Airport
  7. Manchester-Boston Regional Airport
  8. Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport
  9. Lexington Blue Grass Airport
  10. Knoxville McGhee Tyson Airport

When it comes to small airports, there were, understandably, a fair amount of write-in entries for airports that weren’t on our list. Among those that were voted on, Palm Springs International topped the list, followed by Long Beach Airport, and Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport. Jackson Hole and Providence T.F. Green Airport tied for fourth.

Some honorable mentions from the write-ins included Santa Barbara Municipal Airport; Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, Michigan; and Portland International Jetport in Maine.

The AFAR Best U.S. Airports Survey was based on 266 responses to an online Survey Monkey poll.

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Michelle Baran is a deputy editor at AFAR where she oversees breaking news, travel intel, airline, cruise, and consumer travel news. Baran joined AFAR in August 2018 after an 11-year run as a senior editor and reporter at leading travel industry newspaper Travel Weekly.
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