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Rating American Airports

Airport news: Best and worst airports in US

Katrina Brown Hunt  Aug 30, 2010

Frequent traveler and novelist Ryan O’Reilly has a love-hate relationship with Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. “Nearly every time I’ve been through Chicago, my flights have been delayed, canceled, or both,” says the Springfield, MO, resident. “Once, my flight was delayed by six hours, and when we finally got onto the plane, we had to perform an emergency exit because the deicing truck next to it caught on fire.”

Perhaps it’s no shock, then, that Chicago’s airports scored near the bottom in the latest America’s Favorite Cities survey, where Travel + Leisure readers rated 30 U.S. cities on a variety of fronts, including food, shopping, on-time performance, and the efficiency (or potential surliness) of airport employees.

The best airports in the U.S. share a few things in common: plenty of dining options and “entertainment,” which could mean live music, kids’ play areas, spas, or—increasingly important—free wireless Internet access. Strikingly, airports that made up that lower half of the AFC airport survey tend to still charge up to $10 for you to check your email or change your Facebook status. The free wireless is one reason Oregon pharmacist Chris Carter loves Portland International Airport (No. 4), along with small niceties. “It’s easy to get in and out of,” he says, “and we love the parking garage with lights in the ceiling, showing you where open spots are.”

America's Worst Airports

#1 New York

The Big Apple has long made a tradition of outdoing its fellow American cities, and its area airports—JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark—indeed stand out, at least in terms of being miserable. Food, entertainment, on-time performance, and staff efficiency all occupy the last-place ranks in the AFC survey. The highest the NYC airports rank for anything is 28th—for airline clubs, which perhaps just serve as a comfortable place to hide until your flight finally boards.

#2 Los Angeles

Like many things in the L.A. area, it’s all about traffic: transportation to and from the L.A. airports—from Long Beach and Burbank to the granddaddy hub, LAX—ranks a lowly No. 30 in the AFC survey. AFC readers are so over the Jetsons-style façade of LAX (No. 29 for design and functionality), and the airports’ staff rank next-to-last, too. But perhaps that’s no surprise in a city that also ranks 29th for its friendly locals—just the types to cut you off on the freeway.

#3 St. Louis

Maybe folks just miss TWA: its old home, Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, is dreary to AFC readers on a number of fronts. It ranks last for its airline clubs—you’ll find only one American Admirals Club—and its food and shopping rank 28th and 29th, respectively. Plus, you’ll pay $8 for WiFi.

#4 Washington, D.C.

In the No. 1 AFC city for historical sites and monuments, the airports—Dulles and Reagan National—score poorly in a monumental way. They rank No. 29 in entertainment, perhaps due to the fact that WiFi is still limited and comes with fees. Shopping, meanwhile, ranks 27th—picking up a “Hail to the Chef!” apron or browsing the Smithsonian Museum Store notwithstanding.

#5 Boston

Logan Airport sure does try to please travelers, with its kids’ play areas, rocking chairs, free WiFi, and even an on-site spa—but AFC voters aren’t noticing, ranking it 22nd for entertainment. Maybe they just can’t find the good stuff: Logan lands near the bottom (No. 28) for design and functionality, which includes layout and good signage, and ranks No. 25 for transportation both inside and outside the airport. Things improve once you get out of Logan’s reach, though: the city of Boston ranks fifth for its mass transit and for being pedestrian-friendly.

America's Best Airports

#1 Houston

You don’t have to be an oil baron to get the most out of Houston’s top-ranked airports—but it helps. The Texas city tops the charts for its VIP-friendly airline lounges, found mostly at George Bush Intercontinental (IAH). For everyone else, both IAH and Houston Hobby came in at No. 2 in the AFC survey for their food and drink (don’t miss the Tex-Mex or Cajun fare at local chains Pappasito’s and Pappadeaux) and second for entertainment—which may reflect that free WiFi. Best of all, Houston’s airports get the job done: they come in third place for on-time performance and second for their competent and down-home-friendly staff.

#2 Orlando

How can anyone get a case of airport angst so close to the Happiest Place on Earth? Orlando International Airport places first in the survey for airport entertainment—perhaps thanks to the pleasant atrium hangout in the main terminal. Or, it could be that window-shopping counts as entertainment. The airport’s retail (No. 2) offers a microcosm of the city’s most famous gift shops: SeaWorld, Universal Studios, Kennedy Space Center, and—but of course—a store called Disney’s EarPort.

#3 Minneapolis/St. Paul

In the city deemed most intelligent by AFC readers, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport wisely appeals to travelers’ basic needs of consumption: it ranked first for both food (such as local steakhouse Ike’s) and shopping (it has its own so-called Mall, which is a stone’s throw from Mall of America). The airport also offers thoughtful entertainment (No. 3): two large play areas for kids, a 1.4-mile indoor walking trail, and a designated “quiet” seating area for meditation and relaxation. The only downside: there’s a slight chance you might end up getting to your destination late (AFC voters ranked it No. 8 in on-time performance).

#4 Portland, OR

Portland International Airport (PDX) tops the AFC survey for its transportation options—plenty of people movers between concourses, and an easy hop onto the city’s light-rail system, which goes downtown. You can also do some good shopping (No. 6), without the usual fears of airport inflation. PDX promises no sales tax and “fair retail pricing”—with an emphasis on local brands such as Nike and Powell’s Books.

#5 Providence

You won’t lose your bags or your sense of direction in Rhode Island, because Green Airport is the picture of competence: it ranks first in on-time performance, first for staff efficiency, and second for its functional design, which includes good signage. You’ll likely have enough time to sit down and enjoy the offerings at the on-site oyster bar (the airport’s food ranks No. 6).

Airport news: Best and worst airports in US
Houston Intercontinental / Image via

Source: Travel+Leisure

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