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The Worst Airports in America

by Justin Bachman

New York fancies itself the biggest and the best at pretty much everything. But when it comes to airports, the city that never sleeps is really good at being the absolute worst.

Few places offer as much decrepitude, congestion, or inconvenience as LaGuardia and Newark Liberty airports, both of which are warrens of passenger misery. These two took top “honors” as the lowest-ranked North American airports in the 2016 J.D. Power study of airport satisfaction. Boston’s Logan, Chicago’s O’Hare, and Philadelphia airport rounded out the bottom five. They were ranked on a 1,000 point scale based on responses from more than 36,000 travelers who made a round-trip flight between January and October.

This summer, LaGuardia Gateway Partners, a public-private partnership with the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, launched a $4 billion overhaul of the airport aimed at dragging it into the 21st century. The ancient central terminal building will be replaced, with a new structure and its 35 gates moved closer to the adjacent turnpike and located where a now-demolished parking deck once stood. The redesign will give aircraft more space to maneuver, and help relieve LaGuardia’s severe congestion.

Yes, New York is still air travel hell. But on the happier side of the equation, passengers again ranked Portland, Ore., Tampa, Las Vegas, and Orlando as the best large airports. Miami came in fifth, displacing Salt Lake City.

As in J.D. Power’s prior studies, the overall highest scores were collected not by the behemoths noted above, but by medium size airports. These, unsurprisingly, tend to offer easier access and less congestion, said Mike Taylor, director of the airport practice at J.D. Power, part of London-based investment firm XIO Group. One of those mid-sized airports, Indianapolis, was the very top scoring U.S. airport. Vancouver, tied for points with Albuquerque, was the highest-scoring Canadian airport.

And when it comes to a common denominator among the very best airports, it may not come as a surprise that it’s not bright lighting, comfy chairs, or even the number of bars that make the grade: Clean restrooms are what generally win the day.

Here are the Five Least Satisfying Airports as scored by the study:

– New York LaGuardia
The shortcomings of this tiny airport wedged between the Grand Central Parkway, Flushing Bay, and Rikers Island (New York City’s central prison complex) are well-documented. Its faults are especially visible along the older concourses that house American, United, Southwest, and JetBlue airlines. Interestingly, North America’s awful airport champion, scoring only 649 out of 1,000, has improved in the minds of passengers since 2010, helped by a new amenities and a major revamp by Delta Air Lines. Its score back then was only 604. But the major renovation that began this year—with a slew of traffic jams and access troubles—caused it to slip below Newark as the least-satisfying airport.

– Newark Liberty International
This hub airport scored only 669, in large part because it shares many of the faults of its cross-town rival, with dated facilities designed for far fewer passengers than it serves today. United, which operates a hub here, has spent heavily to bring new offerings to Newark’s Terminal C, but the Port Authority still has a long to-do list.

– Philadelphia International
Coming in at 688, this is another aged East Coast hub where passenger growth has far outpaced much of the physical infrastructure for both people and airplanes.

– Chicago O’Hare International
This is a hub for the world’s largest and third-largest airlines, and sits at the aviation crossroads of America. It’s jammed accordingly. O’Hare and Atlanta Hartsfield perennially vie for the title of world’s busiest airport in terms of flights, with the latter generally receiving far higher marks about how it moves its customers. O’Hare scored 689 out of 1,000 points.

– Boston Logan International
Logan, sitting across the harbor from downtown Boston, dates back to the 1920s. Various upgrades and renovations in recent years have nevertheless failed to keep pace with steady passenger growth, fueled by an expanding JetBlue Airways and new international service. Logan also scored 689 out of 1,000.

Now the good news!
Here are the Five Most Satisfying Airports according to J.D. Power:

– Indianapolis International
A thoroughly modern airport, Indianapolis scored a whopping 794 thanks in part to its spaciousness, which you can feel as you wander its concourses. It also helps that most of its facilities are less than a decade old. The airport has garnered numerous industry and travel media awards.

– Buffalo Niagara International
Buffalo, coming in at 791, is another case where mostly new infrastructure—circa 1997, with additions since—has helped create a space and amenities that ease passengers’ trips.

– Southwest Florida International
Just south of Fort Myers, this airport scored 790 and is another example of how shiny new things make everyone happier. The airport’s newest terminal is only a decade old, and county overseers have worked to improve traffic access from nearby I-75.

– Jacksonville International
Like many of its highly-ranked Florida peers, easy access and local flavors—sans congestion inside or out—helped Jacksonville score a 789 as it stands apart from most other airports.

– Portland International
Few airports give travelers the sense of place that Portland offers. From its retail, dining, wine, and craft beer options, the Port of Portland, Ore., wants you to know you’re in the Pacific Northwest. Even the airport’s teal carpet has become a noteworthy feature for many, with its own Facebook page. The airport scored 786 out of 1,000.

“Do not go where the path leads, travel instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”  @wbbrjp

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