Airports

Best U.S. airports. Another celebratory list.

When it comes to travel, there are plenty of lists that claim to rank the best (and worst) airports, airlines, hotels, loyalty programs, etc.

Some are created by experts in the field. Others are the results of surveys (some scientific, some not). And still other are created (somehow) by companies hoping to get their names mentioned in a story.

Conde Nast surveys it well-traveled readers to put together its long list of travel bests each year.

Here’s their Top Ten list of airports for 2018:

  1. Indianapolis International Airport
  2. Portland Oregon International Airport (PDX)
  3. Bradley International Airport (BDL)
  4. Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP)
  5. Tampa International Airport (TPA)
  6. Detroit Metro Airport (DTW)
  7. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)
  8. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)
  9. George  Bush International Airport (IAH)
  10. Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI)

Any of your favorites on this list? Or any airports you think were robbed of a spot?

Airports of the future

What will the airport of the (near) future look like? I’ve got a story in the current issue of AFAR that lays out that scenario.  Here are some of the highlights.

Photo -by Harriet Baskas

Your face is your ticket

Get ready for single-token travel. A facial scan and an initial look at your passport is already all you need at some airports.

Smart(er) security lanes

Time-saving, stress-busting security checkpoints will soon be universal. Improved technology speeds up the bin-loading process and allows TSA officers to scan carry-ons quicker and find bags containing prohibited items in a flash

In-airport delivery

Food and merchandise comes to you, wherever you are in the airport. OTG’s tablet-centered ordering and grocery-style self-checkout lanes are expanding, as are app-powered mobile delivery services such as Airport Sherpa and At Your Gate, already on-duty at the Baltimore, San Diego and Newark airports.

 Where’s my bag?

Lost luggage is a bummer. But more bags arrive as promised thanks to airports that employ tools such as radio frequency identification (RFID) tags and monitoring apps to track bags from the time they’re accepted at the airport to delivery at the bag claim.

Find your car – and an open restroom stall

High-tech lighting systems guide travelers to open spaces in giant airport parking garages and direct home-bound passengers to lost cars. Airport restrooms are high-tech too, with occupied/unoccupied signals over the stalls and technology that alerts maintenance teams to lavs that need cleaning.

Count on cryptocurrency.

Australia’s Brisbane International led the way by letting travelers pay for purchases with cryptocurrency. Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport followed with kiosks that exchange leftover cash for Bitcoin. Count on airports, the first and last city stop for international visitors, to embrace digital currency as its popularity rises.

A nap or a night at the airport

Short-stay cocoon sleeping pods and microhotels from the likes of Minute SuitesSleepbox Hotel, and Yotel offer weary passengers recharging rests inside terminals. For longer stays, look for more full-size airport-adjacent hotels, such as the InterContinental at Minneapolis−St. Paul Airport, opened in July, and the TWA Hotel at JFK International, due in 2019.

Airport cities offer milk, medical facilities and more

No longer ‘just’ transportation nodes, airports are branching out with full-service grocery stores, medical facilities, movie theaters and entertainment centers. The observation deck at Incheon Airport’s new Terminal 2 offers virtual reality experiences, while Singapore’s Changi Airport 10-story Jewel complex (opening 2019) promises the world’s tallest indoor waterfall.

Go to Miami – or Mars

 

As space travel and space tourism moves closer to reality, some airports plan to double as spaceports, so travelers can set out across an ocean – or out of this world.

What features are you hoping pop up at the airport of the future?

 

Top airports share their secrets to success

What ‘secret weapons’ do airports use to make passengers happy? For my most recent “At the Airport” column on USA TODAY, I asked some of the ‘winners’ in the most recent JD Power suvey to share what they think makes their airports stand out against others.

Airports around the country are dealing wiht record high passenger volumes and a wave of major terminal construction projects. Yet, U.S. airports are doing a bang-up job of pleasing passengers.

That’s the major take-away from the 2018 North America Airport Satisfaction Study recently released by J.D. Power, which ranks everything from airlines and airports to electronics and cars.

The study says travelers’ overall satisfaction with airports is at a record high, based on factors such as terminal facilities; airport accessibility; security check; baggage claim; check-in/baggage check; and food, beverage and retail.

Of course, some airports rank higher in the study than others. And when we quizzed ‘winners’ about the secrets to their success, “a commitment to customer service” emerged as a universal theme. But so too did did a keen, good-hearted sense of competition.

The ‘mega’ airports

 

Among ‘mega’ airports – those serving more than 32.5 million annual passengers – Orlando International Airport (the 2017 category winner) and McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas tied for first place.

Orlando International (MCO), Florida’s busiest airport, credits its return win to “a seamless arrival and departure experience that exceeds the needs of the traveler and instills a memorable imprint of the culture and environment of the region.”

The airport is meeting milestones in its $4.27 billion Capital Improvement Plan and has completed a variety of ‘passenger-pleasing’ projects ranging from improved Wi-Fi and baggage systems to a people mover system that transports passengers over waterways and landscape that evoke the Florida sense of place.

When McCarran International Airport (LAS) landed in the number 3 slot in J.D. Power’s ‘mega’ category last year, Rosemary Vassiliadis, Director of Aviation for Clark County, Nevada,  gathered her team together to strategize how to move up to first place.

“It’s personal for us,” said Vassiliadis, “Las Vegas is a destination city and our airport offers the first and last look for almost 50% of the people who visit. We want to let them know how much their visit means to us.”

To gain its first-place tie this year, LAS teams focused on upgrading terminal spaces, smoothing out checkpoint experiences and perfecting the “You’re in Vegas” vibe that includes slot machines, a neon “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign, and a curated “Voices of Vegas” taped music program highlighting iconic Vegas acts and songs that name check the city.

At Detroit Metropolitan Airport (ranked third in this category this year) logo welcome mats have replaced industrial black runners. DTW officials also credit high passenger satisfaction ratings to amenities such as new nursing rooms, water bottle refill stations and light fixtures that can be programmed with seasonal and sport-team colors.

At Denver International Airport, which placed fourth in the ‘mega’ category this year, the secret to success is always looking for ways to “surprise and delight passengers,” said airport spokeswoman Emily Williams.

DEN offers everything from a Canine Airport Therapy Squad (that includes a cat) to airport events in an outdoor plaza that have featured a beer garden and an ice-skating rink.

And during its current terminal renovation project, DEN is having success delighting passengers with a series of “Pardon our dust” messages that embrace the conspiracy theories and rumors of alien inhabitants that date back to 1995, when the airport opened.

The best ‘large’ airports

Among ‘large’ airports serving 10 million to 32.4 million passengers California’s John Wayne Airport, in Orange County, ranked highest this year; Dallas Love Field ranked second and Oregon’s Portland International Airport ranked third.

John Wayne Airport 2006

With a departure curfew, passenger and flights caps and just 505 acres, “We’re a postage stamp of an airport, but passengers like our airport’s convenience.” said Deanne Thompson, spokeswoman for John Wayne Airport (SNA), which is located about an hour from LAX.

At SNA, passengers also appreciate ‘extras’ such as water bottle refill stations, pet relief areas, the vibrant art program and the nursing mothers lounge with adjustable lighting, said Thompson, “All amenities that make travel easy.”

Dallas Love Field Airport, which must contend with a gate cap, credits its customer satisfaction success to “personal touch and high-quality customer service.”

The airport offers a live weekday lunchtime music performance program, permanent and changing art exhibitions, a public piano, a children’s play area and information booths that are staffed from 5 a.m. until the last flight.

And at Oregon’s Portland International Airport, passengers enjoy the wide selection of local and regional shops and restaurants, true street pricing and a suite of amenities that includes a free movie theater, said PDX spokeswoman Kama Simonds.

“The secret sauce? The folks who work at PDX, who have an awesome sense of pride in the work they do and the travelers they interact with,” said Simonds, “And as we all know from when we’re travelers, that makes the whole experience that much better.”

The best ‘Medium’ airports

Among medium sized airports – those serving between 3 million and 9.9 million passengers – this year Buffalo Niagara International Airport ranks the highest, followed by Indianapolis International Airport and Fort Myers/Southwest Florida International.

 

In addition to focusing on customer service, “We also do things that go above and beyond,” said Kimberley Minkel, executive director of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, which operates the Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

The airport has a branch of the Anchor Bar where Buffalo chicken wings were invented and the second largest ‘Paws of Love’ therapy dog program in the country. Thanks in large part to BUF’s award winning snow removal team, the airport never closes.

Among its ‘secret weapons,’ Indianapolis International Airport cites its bright, wide-open spaces and amenities such as human-powered charging kiosks and an extensive permanent and rotating art exhibition program. Events at the airport often mirror what’s happening in town: i.e. during Indianapolis 500 season, IND hosts a panel with drivers sharing stories of their racing experiences.

DCIM100MEDIADJI_0084.JPG

And a Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers, “Our secret to success is the sense of place at our facilities,” said RSW spokeswoman Victoria Moreland, “In the terminal you can look out huge windows at the busy ramp and runway areas while sitting at a table under a palm tree.”

Do you agree with these rankings? And have you noticed these ‘secret weapons’ employed?

Top airports? Las Vegas, Orlando, John Wayne, Buffalo, says J.D. Power

Despite record passenger volumes and lots of construction projects,  travelers are more satisfied with the North America airports than ever before. That’s according to this year’s J.D. Power Satisfaction Study, which was released today.

The study breaks down airports by “mega,”  large and medium and evaluates for five factors (in order of importance): check-in; food, beverage and retail; accessibility; terminal facilities; and baggage claim.

Using a 1,000 point scale, the overall passengers satisfaction for airports overall was 761. That’s 12 points higher than last year’s study.

There was a tie for first place for  ‘mega’ airports category: Las Vegas McCarran International Airport and Orlando International Airport, with a score of 781.

“We are so proud of our No. 1 ranking in the mega airport category,” said Rosemary Vassiliadis, McCarran International Airport’s director of aviation, “This honor validates the hard work and collaboration among our airport partners as we have embraced a commitment to improving the passenger travel experience through shared customer service values. At McCarran, we know we are the first and last impression of Las Vegas, and we take that responsibility very seriously.”

The team at Orlando International is equally proud:

“We remain dedicated to our core goal of providing travelers and guests with an outstanding
experience, ‘The Orlando Experience’, as they travel through the airport,” said Frank
Kruppenbacher, Chairman of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority. “We are gratified that
the efforts of the Board, staff and our airport partners to provide the traveling public with the
finest airport experience continue to be recognized.”

In the mega airport category, Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (775) ranks third and Denver International Airport (771) ranks fourth.

Among large airports, John Wayne Airport, Orange County ranks first, with a score of 815. Dallas Love
Field (810) ranks second and Portland (Ore.) International Airport (804) ranks third.

“Not only did John Wayne Airport receive the highest score of any airport in the study, scoring 815 points on a 1,000-point scale, we also received the highest score in four of the six study categories, said Airport Director Barry Rondinella.  “John Wayne Airport has earned this distinction due to our team’s commitment to providing a superior guest experience. Every guest, every day, receives a superior level of care and attention.”

In the medium airport category, Buffalo Niagara International Airport ranks highest with a score of
814. Indianapolis International Airport (811) ranks second and Fort Myers/Southwest Florida
International (810) ranks third.

Of course, here at StuckatTheAirport.com, we love all airports equally, but here are the full rankings from the report. If you can’t read them on this post, you can find them here.

              “Mega” Airports

                                              Large Airports 

                                   Medium Airports

 

Atlanta International Airport shows off lighted canopy

Hatsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport recently tested the lighting on the first three sections of its North Terminal canopy.

ATL Airport - green canopy

This canopy is one of a half dozen major construction projects under way at ATL as part of a major 20-year long development program, dubbed ATL Next, that the airport says is designed to boost capacity, renew and replace existing facilities and “enhance ATL’s aesthetic appeal.”

There will be canopies in front of the North and South passenger terminals and the full length of each canopy will be covered in a plastic material that will be able to be illuminated in different colors and patterns by thousands of embedded LED lights.

Work on the ATL’s North Canopy should be done by the fall. The South canopy is expected to be completed in Fall 2019.

The airport did a test run on the lights on part of the North Canopy last week. Neutral white light is expected to be the default color but on special occasions the canopies will be illuminated to mark specific events such as red, white and blue to honor Independence Day.

Other options already under consideration: red and black to celebrate a Falcons Super Bowl victory, or green to mark Earth Day.

Of course, ATL isn’t the first to get a cool lighted architectural feature.

Chicago’s O’Hare Airport has the “Sky’s the Limit” underground neon walkway.

OHARE NEON TUNNEL courtesy ORD

Detroit Metropolitan Airport has a lighted tunnel.

 

And Los Angeles International Airport has lighted pylons at it entrance that are often lit up in different color patterns to honor a holiday or special event.

What other cool lighted architectural features at airports should we add to this list?