MINNEAPOLIS — Long lines, crowded terminals, and delayed flights can make for angry travelers at any airport, but oddly enough, we’re actually becoming more satisfied with these portals to the sky, according to a recent J.D. Power study.
Even though most airports are seeing between a 5 and 6 percent increase in traveler volumes, they’re doing what they can to stay ahead of the game by improving various experiences from check-in and security to dining and shopping.
But an “on average” increase in satisfaction isn’t necessarily good news for all airports, as there are still those that don’t quite live up to traveler expectations and therefore find themselves at the bottom of the list.
As you might expect, of the 10 airports that received the lowest rankings in the “large airport” category, half are in the increasingly-congested Northeast region of the country. But even though it may seem that way, angry passengers aren’t “out to get” the airports in that region, as the remaining five are pretty evenly distributed across the map.
These are the airports that people love to hate… but to their credit – they know there is work to be done, and they’re doing it. So without further ado, here they are… the top 10 “scareports” in America.
10. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport
Sea-Tac is the largest airport in the Pacific Northwest and the 28th busiest in the world in terms of passenger traffic. It’s also where the so-called “Battle for Seattle” between hometown hero Alaska Airlines and Delta has been making news for the past four years – the latter having turned Seattle into an international hub in 2013.
Currently, Sea-Tac has more than $3 billion in near-term projects underway including baggage handling system optimization, center runway reconstruction, and dining and retail redevelopment among others.
And as one of the fastest growing airports in the U.S. for three years running, Sea-Tac is also in the midst of its Sustainable Airport Master Plan to effectively manage projected growth over the course of the next 10, 15 and 20 years.
9. Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport
FLL is the country’s 21st busiest airport in terms of passenger traffic and is Spirit Airlines’ largest base. What really sets this airport apart though, is that Spirit is just one of an astounding four low-cost carriers that are duking it out to win over passengers in this market.
The airport is currently involved in a number of improvement projects including: modernizing terminals by offering more food, shopping, seating and dining options; adding more gates that can support both domestic and international flights; and adding a second runway to minimize flight delays.
Just last month a new concourse opened in Terminal 1, and work is ongoing to expand Terminal 4 – the international terminal. And with airlines like Emirates, British Airways and Norwegian entering the market, that expansion is crucial.
In total, the Broward County Aviation Department will have spent roughly $2.4 billion on expansion and modernization efforts over the course of four years with funding from federal and state grants, passenger facility charges and airport revenues.
8. John F. Kennedy International Airport
JFK is North America’s busiest international gateway and is also the busiest airport in the New York City area. In January, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced plans to transform JFK, acknowledging that the airport falls short of today’s global standards.
The plan focuses on expanding terminals, redesigning roadways, centralizing and expanding parking, ensuring “world class” amenities, expanding taxiways and implementing state-of-the-art security technology. It also addresses key bottlenecks getting to and from the airport – accessibility being one of the key factors the J.D. Power study measures.
In May, JFK became the fifth airport in the country to employ automated screening lanes to make security more effective and to speed up the process overall.
7. Houston Bush Intercontinental Airport
Houston Bush is the second largest hub for United Airlines and is also one of Spirit Airlines’ focus cities. Together, Bush and Hobby airports act as the nation’s largest gateway to Latin America, with the most nonstop flights to Mexico of any airport system in the country.
In 2016, the airport announced plans for $4 billion worth of improvements to take place over the course of a decade. Like others on the list, the expansion projects at IAH stem from rapid growth that has left the airport in dire need of more space and additional facilities. Remodeling terminals, adding concourses, and providing passengers with new shopping and dining options are among the projects slated for the airport.
The new $1.5 billion Mickey Leland Terminal is expected to open before the end of the year.
6. Los Angeles International Airport
LAX is the largest and busiest airport in the state of California and one of the largest international airports in the world. It’s also home to ongoing competition among airlines, mainly because no one claims LAX as a traditional hub.
And as competition grows, so does passenger traffic, which is why the airport has committed billions of dollars toward improvements.
In February 2017 city officials broke ground on the new $1.6 billion concourse addition to the Tom Bradley International Terminal, which first opened in September 2013. The new concourse will have 12 aircraft gates including two for large planes like the Airbus A380 and the Boeing 747-8.
Other project plans include new taxiways and a ramp tower to better direct aircraft where visibility is limited.
5. Boston Logan Airport
Boston Logan is the largest airport in New England and the 17th busiest in the U.S. It’s also home to an ongoing battle between JetBlue – Boston being the airline’s strategic focus city and its second-largest market – and Delta, who slowly crept into the market, hoping to steal some of the low-cost carrier’s share of passengers.
In April of this year, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker and the Massachusetts Port Authority announced renovations at the airport’s Terminal E. The project focuses on expanding terminal space by an additional 95,000 square feet, renovating three existing gates and adding necessary services to accommodate larger aircraft.
The number of international nonstop destinations into and out of Logan has nearly doubled over the last decade – from 27 to 53, and international passengers now account for 16 percent of the airport’s travelers.
4. Chicago O’Hare Airport
As the nation’s second-busiest airport behind Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson, O’Hare is notorious for two things: competition and delays. United and American have been in an arms race of sorts for years – one adds new routes, the other one-ups them, and so on and so forth.
In early 2016, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel reached an agreement with United and American airlines to build a sixth runway, which came with a hefty price tag of $1.3 billion and is expected to be complete by 2020.
But the new runway wouldn’t address one of the primary issues – a lack of sufficient parking spaces for planes which in turn leads to delayed flights.
So in July 2016, the major airlines operating out of O’Hare agreed to add up to nine gates to Terminal 5 and completely demolish and rebuild the overly-congested Terminal 2. The new gates are expected to open in 2019 and negotiations over the terminal rebuild are expected to continue through the end of this year.
3. Philadelphia International Airport
PHL is a major hub for American Airlines and a regional cargo hub for UPS Airlines.
In 2010, the FAA approved a 13-year $5.2 billion expansion project that would have extended the two primary runways, added one new runway, created two new terminals and relocated the UPS facility. The problem? The redesigned UPS facility would have required the demolition of 72 homes in nearby Tinicum Township.
The homeowners weren’t having it, and after much resistance a new $6.4 billion project was announced. Highlights include extending runway 27L, designing a new automated people mover, constructing a new consolidated rental car facility and redesigning Terminal B/C.
2. Newark Liberty International Airport
Newark is the third-largest hub for United Airlines and the third-largest cargo hub for FedEx. In 2016, the FAA eased the airport’s slot controls – restrictions that aim to ease congestion by ensuring that only a reasonable amount of flights depart and land at any given time. The FAA decision made it easier for carriers to secure these slots, which increased competition and meant more efficient use of the facility’s terminals and runways.
In 2014, one of the airport’s major runways underwent a $97.3 million rehabilitation in an effort to reduce delays. The project included two new high-speed taxiways that include high-speed exits as well.
In April of this year it was announced that the Port Authority will spend $2.3 billion to build a new Terminal A, including a 1 million square-foot terminal with 33 gates – a 50 percent capacity increase.
1. New York LaGuardia Airport
In 2012, Travel & Leisure magazine named LaGuardia the worst airport in the country and in 2014 Vice President Joe Biden likened the airport to something you might find in a third world country, so it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that LGA tops this list as America’s No. 1 Scareport. But just like the others, they’ve identified the issues and are working on solutions.
In 2015, plans were announced to completely rebuild LaGuardia by 2021. The Port Authority estimates that the project will cost roughly $4 billion. Plans include moving airport buildings further south, connecting the airport via rail to a nearby subway station, reestablishing ferry service to and from the airport, and eliminating the parking garage and surface lots that take up a significant portion of the facility’s acreage.
According to Michael Taylor, director of the airport practice at J.D. Power, the rebuild solves two major problems for the airport: overcrowding and the ability to move aircraft more efficiently on and off runways. “The new design is going to create major short-term headaches for LaGuardia travelers, but the results will be worth it,” Taylor said.
The Lesson Here? Patience is a Virtue
Expansion has expectedly and necessarily risen to the top of many airports’ “to do” lists as they continue to funnel more and more passengers through their facilities. But since a number of them have actually been in the midst of these renovation projects for years, their already low scores dipped even further due to travelers’ frustration with construction work and overcrowded terminals.
Just as Taylor noted about LaGuardia, however, the short-term pain associated with these countless renovation projects will (hopefully) result in long-term gain, both for the airports themselves and for travelers.
The J.D. power study takes into account the following six factors in order of importance: 1) terminal facilities, 2) airport accessibility, 3) security check, 4) baggage claim, 5) check-in/baggage check, and 6) food, beverage and retail. And with a number of the airports’ renovation projects focusing heavily on improving these very things, only time will tell if the efforts will be enough to help them inch their way back up the list.
View J.D. Power’s official release here: 2016 North America Airport Satisfaction Study.