It’s no secret that the return in air travel following the massive pandemic slump has been turbulent. Between crowding at airports, staffing shortages, flight cancellations, and sky-high prices for terminal dining due to inflation, North America’s airports have a lot of room for improvement in the eyes of passengers, according to a new study released by J.D. Power this week.
The survey of more than 26,000 travelers conducted August 2021 through July 2022 rated airports based on several factors, including terminal facilities; arrival and departure; baggage claim; security screening; check-in procedures; and food, beverage, and retail. Based on those key issues, overall airport satisfaction dropped to 777 on a 1,000-point scale, down 25 points from a record high in 2021. (J.D. Power has been conducting this study for the past 17 years.)
The decline in score was driven primarily by crowding, with 58 percent of respondents describing airports as severely or moderately crowded, and a shortage of available parking spaces contributing to a 45-point decline compared to 2021. Nearly a quarter (24 percent) of travelers said they skipped buying food or drinks at the airport because they were too pricey—up from 20 percent in 2021 and 23 percent in 2019.
“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—and it is likely to continue through 2023,” noted Michael Taylor, travel intelligence lead at J.D. Power.
According to Taylor, the sheer number of people at airports these days can make travelers feel more “frazzled.” In addition to that, the fact that parking lots don’t have enough spaces for fliers, gates are bursting at the seams, and the pandemic led to numerous airport bars and restaurants closing—and remaining closed, means “increased capacity in airports can’t come soon enough,” added Taylor.
Thankfully, there is some relief in sight. The survey results come just as the Biden administration earlier this year awarded nearly $1 billion to 85 airports across the U.S. to expand and upgrade terminals and other airport facilities using funding from the massive infrastructure bill that was passed last year.
The largest of the grants include $62 million to replace aging infrastructure at Boston’s Logan International Airport, $60 million to increase capacity at Denver International Airport, $50 million to expand passenger capacity at Orlando International Airport, and $49.6 million to build a new 14-gate concourse at Dulles Airport outside Washington, D.C.
According to the J.D. Power survey, the funds—and the improvements and expansions they promise—come at critical time.
How North America’s airports rank
In the J.D. Power 2022 North America Airport Satisfaction Study, airports were divided into three size categories: “mega,” large, and medium. “Mega” airports are defined as those handling 33 million or more passengers annually; large are airports with 10 million to 32.9 million passengers annually; and medium consists of airports that handle between 4.5 million and 9.9 million passengers each year.
The top-rated “mega” airports in North America
1) Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport (800 points)
2) San Francisco International Airport (796 points)
3) Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (791 points)
4) John F. Kennedy International Airport (791 points)
5) Harry Reid International Airport in Paradise, Nevada (790 points)
6) Orlando International Airport (786 points)
7) Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (782 points)
8) Dallas/Forth Worth International Airport (778 points)
9) Miami International Airport (770 points)
10) Charlotte Douglas International Airport (768 points)
At the bottom of the J.D. Power list for “mega” airports are Los Angeles International Airport, Chicago O’Hare International Airport, and Newark Liberty International Airport.
The top-rated large airports in North America
1) Tampa International Airport (846 points)
2) John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California (826 points)
3) Dallas Love Field (825 points)
4) Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (813 points)
5) Raleigh-Durham International Airport (813 points)
6) Salt Lake City International Airport (804 points)
7) Portland International Airport (803 points)
8) William P. Hobby Airport in Houston, Texas (803 points)
9) San Antonio International Airport (802 points)
10) Sacramento International Airport (798 points)
The lowest-ranked large airports on the J.D. Power list are New York’s La Guardia Airport, Kansas City International Airport, Honolulu International Airport, and Philadelphia International Airport.
The top-rated medium airports in North America
1) Indianapolis International Airport (842 points)
2) Pittsburgh International Airport (839 points)
3) Jacksonville International Airport (826 points)
4) Southwest Florida International Airport (826 points)
5) General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (824 points)
6) Albuquerque International Sunport (819 points)
7) Palm Beach International Airport (816 points)
8) Ontario International Airport (813 points)
9) Buffalo Niagara International Airport (809 points)
10) Ottawa/Macdonald-Cartier International Airport (806 points)
The lowest-ranked medium airports are Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, Kahului Airport in Maui, and Hollywood Burbank Airport.
This story was originally published in September 2018, and was updated on September 22, 2022, to include current information.