Sky high passenger numbers. Pilot shortages, delays and cancellations due to weather.
Sounds like a recipe for disgruntled air travelers. But “something amazing” happened at North American airports over the past year, according to a press release from consumer insights and analytics firm JD Power: passenger satisfaction improved.
These are the most important findings from the J.D. Power 2023 North American Airport Satisfaction Study, released Wednesday. The study evaluates three categories of airports – major airports, large airports, and mid-sized airports – based on more than 27,000 traveler surveys collected from August 2022 through July 2023.
The improvement is “not at all unexpected,” says Michael Taylor, managing director of travel, hospitality and retail at J.D. Power.
“Crowds at the airport have mostly stabilized, if not decreased slightly at some airports. “Slowing congestion will have a positive impact on the results,” he told CNN Travel. Passenger volume has largely stopped rising by double digits, Taylor said. The gradual recovery of food and beverage services and retail – “more staff, more hours” – has also had a positive impact on airport results.
Overall customer satisfaction with North American airports improved by 3 points this year – bringing the overall score to 780 on a 1,000-point scale.
Airports were evaluated by considering six factors, listed in order of importance: terminal facilities; Arrival/departure from the airport; Baggage claim; Security check-in/baggage check; Food, beverage and retail.
The rise in satisfaction this year was driven by three factors – station facilities; Food, beverage and retail services; And baggage claim. “Station facilities” refers to the cleanliness, comfort and ease of navigating areas including corridors, restrooms and gates as well as the quality of Wi-Fi.
But it is natural that some airports are better than others, as any traveler can confirm.
Air travelers routinely complain about Newark Liberty International Airport, which is at the bottom of the list of mega-airports (those that handle 33 million or more passengers annually).
Newark posted a score this year of 732, which is far behind other lower-rated airports, but also an improvement over last year’s score of 719.
Newark’s new Building A opened to the public in January, so not all study participants saw its benefits this year.
Toronto Pearson International Airport had the second lowest score – 749 out of 1,000. Taylor attributes this performance to very high passenger volume – by as much as 50%.
“The more passengers there are, the lower the satisfaction scores. But this is a problem the airport wants to address,” Taylor said via email.
Lowest five points on a 1,000-point scale for satisfaction with large airports:
Boston Logan International Airport (762)
Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (762)
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (754)
Toronto Pearson International Airport (749)
Newark Liberty International Airport (732)
On the plus side, this year’s No. 1 most satisfactory mega airport — Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport — improved by 9 points from last year, earning 800 points. The airport improved across the board, with strong performance improvements in TSA, baggage claim, food and beverage areas and retail, Taylor said.
Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport, last year’s top performer, dropped to second place with 796 points.
Top 10 on a 1,000-point scale for satisfaction with large airports:
Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (800)
Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (796)
Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas (787)
Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (783)
Miami International Airport (783)
San Francisco International Airport (781)
Denver International Airport (777)
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (777)
Orlando International Airport (777)
George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston (776)
The best and worst of the rest
In the Large Airports category (handling 10 to 32.9 million passengers annually), Tampa International Airport (TPA) ranked first for the second year in a row. Indianapolis International Airport (IND) ranked first among medium-sized airports (with 4.5 to 9.9 million passengers annually).
“TPA and IND have great terminal design, access is very efficient, and both airports have goods and services that represent their location,” Taylor said. This will include the Flamingos in Tampa and the Race Cars in Indianapolis.
Tampa had a score of 832; Indianapolis scored 843.
At the bottom of the list of large airports, Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) received a score of 750.
“PHL is doing a lot of things right but they really need upgraded infrastructure. They seem to be lagging behind other airports in investing in upgraded airport facilities,” Taylor said.
New York’s LaGuardia Airport, which was last in passenger satisfaction for large airports in 2019, has seen a huge jump in satisfaction thanks to a massive redevelopment project. In 2023, it scored 788 points, just one point behind the average score for a large airport.
In the medium airport category, Maui Kahului Airport ranked last with a score of 771.
Another Hawaii airport – Honolulu International Airport – had a low score in the large airport category, with 753 points. Taylor attributed these low scores to “a great deal of expanded construction at airports.”
The bottom line for airports? There is still room for improvement.
“While airports are doing a good job of dealing with current issues, there is still more they can do to improve the passenger experience while also improving their bottom line,” Taylor said in a J.D. Power news release.
The study found that passengers who were 10 out of 10 “delighted” with their experience spent an average of $44 at the terminal, while “disappointed” passengers who gave airports scores of 5 or lower spent just $29.
“Happy travelers spend a lot of money at the airport, so continued efforts to spread passenger numbers throughout the day and provide outstanding service at all customer touchpoints will be critical,” Taylor said.
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