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Overall traveler satisfaction is up, with airports getting high marks for their dining and retail options, as well as for improved security screening processes.

Despite record passenger volumes and much-needed infrastructure overhauls, North America’s airports are improving in the eyes of passengers, according to a new study released by J.D. Power this week. After surveying more than 40,000 travelers, the study found that improved check-in, security screening, and food and retail options all contributed to record-high ratings for airports in the United States and Canada.

Survey participants rated airports based on several factors, including their check-in experience; food, beverage, and retail; accessibility; terminal facilities; and the baggage claim. Overall satisfaction scored an all-time high of 761 on a 1,000-point scale, up 12 points from the previous record high last year. (J.D. Power has been conducting this study for the past 13 years.) The improved score was driven primarily by a 17-point increase in travelers’ satisfaction with the food, beverage, and retail offerings at airports and by an 18-point increase in satisfaction with the security check process.

Respondents attributed the improved security experience to what they perceived to be better communication and cooperation between airports and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) staff. Airports that scored highest on the security front were also touted for having appropriate security staffing levels to meet the airports’ load factors.

The highest-scoring aspect of the total airport experience was the check-in procedure, an area that J.D. Power reports has been rising consistently since airports began implementing self-service kiosks and self-service bag tagging.

>>Related: What do you think of U.S. airports? Vote for your favorite airports in AFAR’s new survey.

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Despite the improved ratings, North American airports still face some significant challenges going forward, according to Michael Taylor, Travel Practice lead at J.D. Power.

“North America airports have been doing a tremendous job managing passenger volume, adding amenities, and keeping travelers moving despite some noteworthy challenges, but they will be put to the true test over the next few years,” Taylor said in a statement.

According to Taylor, there are several multi-billion-dollar airport construction projects, such as those in Boston, Los Angeles, and Chicago, that will likely result in passenger disruptions and increased traffic. “How well these rapidly expanding airports manage throughout these infrastructure projects will provide valuable insight into what’s in store on a nationwide basis,” he stated.

How North Americas Airports Ranked

In the J.D. Power 2018 North America Airport Satisfaction Study, airports were divided into three size categories: mega, large, and medium. Mega airports are defined as those handling more than 32.5 million passengers annually; large are airports with 10 million to 32.4 million passengers annually; and medium consists of airports that handle between 3 million and 9.9 million passengers each year.

Las Vegas McCarran International Airport and Orlando International Airport tied for the top spot among mega airports, a list that includes the largest and busiest international hubs in North America. They were followed by Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport and Denver International Airport.

The three lowest-ranking mega airports were Chicago O’Hare International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, and Newark Liberty International Airport.

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Passengers ranked mega airports, those handling more than 32.5 million passengers annually.

Among large airports, John Wayne Airport, Orange County (Calif.) ranked highest, followed by Dallas Love Field and Portland (Ore.) International Airport. The three lowest-ranked large airports in North America were Philadelphia International Airport, Kansas City International Airport, and New York La Guardia Airport.

The ranking list of large airports, those with 10 million to 32.4 million passengers annually

For medium-sized airports, Buffalo Niagara International Airport topped the list, followed by Indianapolis International Airport and Fort Myers/Southwest Florida International. The lowest-ranked medium airports were Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, San Jose International Airport, and Kahului Airport.

Passengers ranked medium airports, which are defined as airports that handle between 3 million and 9.9 million passengers each year.

The study was conducted from September 2017 through September 2018, and was based on responses from 40,183 North America travelers who traveled through at least one domestic airport during the past three months.

Do you agree with these results, or think they're wildly off the mark? Let us know which are your favorite airports in our new Best U.S. Airports survey. We'll publish a list of AFAR readers' favorite airports across the country soon.

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