The 10 Best Airports in America, According to Data
Mike Taylor of J.D. Power explains what makes these top 10 airports so great.
Everyone has their favorite airport, but what really separates the good from the great? Every year, the J.D. Power 2021 North America Airport Satisfaction Study measures overall traveler satisfaction, rating airports on a 1,000 point scale on six factors in order of importance: Terminal facilities, airport arrival/departure, baggage claim, security check, check-in/baggage check, and food, beverage, and retail.
"A good airport does all the blocking and tackling well: They are easy to get to and through, security is efficient, they are clean, and the terminals are comfortable," says Michael Taylor, travel intelligence lead at J.D. Power. A great airport? It does all of these things and more. Oftentimes, the higher rated airports boast great food, beverage, and retail programs, offering a mix of things, including brands people know (Chick-fil-A, Burger King, Starbucks, etc.) with restaurants that "reflect the local community and things that you can only get in that city," Taylor says.
Which airports are currently on the top 10 list and how did they achieve top scores? Taylor explains all right here. And for more, check out 10 U.S. Islands to Add to Your Bucket List—No Passport Required.
Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP)
When it comes to mega airports (defined by J.D. Power as those with 33 million or more passengers per year), Minneapolis-St. Paul was only one of three to break into the top ten list. The airport, which serves the twin cities, scored 815 out of 1,000.
"Great terminal facilities are their key strengths," Taylor tells Best Life about the airport. He points out that while most airport's scores went down over this last year, simply because there were more people in the terminal as demand for travel has come back, MSP didn't drop as fast as others. He also notes that the airport recently finished major construction, which definitely helped boost its score. "When you finish construction, people rate you higher," he says.
One area the airport scored particularly high in? Bathroom cleanliness.
New York-John F. Kennedy (JFK)
New York's JFK airport, the busiest airport serving the New York City metro region, is the second highest scoring mega airport in the country, per J.D. Power. They scored 817 out of 1,000.
Taylor calls JFK a "success story," explaining that they have made major improvements in the past decade. Some of the areas they thrive in include, food, beverage, retail, and great traffic flow despite being a multi-terminal airport. He notes that terminals four and eight are two of the nicer ones with a variety of offerings and a greater percent of the travel moves through them.
Austin, a large airport accommodating 10 to 32.9 million passengers per year, scored an 819. "They have done a lot of construction," says Taylor, noting that terminal facilities are a strength. It also doesn't hurt that they offer live music Monday through Friday in several venues throughout the terminals.
Nashville, which scored an 820, does well in food, beverage, and retail, says Taylor. Some of the favorite food offerings? 400 Degrees Hot Chicken, Bar-B-Cutie SmokeHouse, Fugitives Public House, and Little Harpeth Brewing.
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Salt Lake City (SLC)
The sound design of Salt Lake City helped the Utah airport achieve a 826 score. Taylor explains that airports are faced with the challenge of acoustics, and it all comes down to the flooring. "When you have a public space, a hard surface floor is easy to clean, but reflects noise and makes the terminal loud," he says. "Carpeting wears out and attracts dirt." Because of the great sound design, SLC has great baffling so you can hear the ambient noise, which is comforting to travelers, but also allows for clear announcements of the PA system.
Out of all the mega airports in the country, Miami ranked number one with a score of 828. According to J.D., Miami International was one of the highest scoring airports (and the highest scoring mega airport) in the food, beverage, and retail services category. Taylor says that local Miami and Florida outlets give the airport a "sense of place"—like Shula's Bar and Grill, (Gloria) Estefan's Kitchen, and Gilbert's Bakery (local to Miami). "MIA also has a Bacardi Mojito Bar and 'Corona Beach House', which reinforces that South Florida beach ambiance."
Dallas Love (DAL)
Love Field, an airport dominated by Southwest airlines, per Taylor, scored 829. "They revamped the whole airport prior to the pandemic and followed the current philosophy of what an airport should look like: An upscale suburban mall," he says. One of their stronger areas is food, beverage, and retail.
"Southwest also has great operations and is one of the better in the U.S. for on-time performance," he says. An added bonus? "They have a great wine bar."
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Raleigh-Durham, a hub airport with an 841 score, does a great job with centering their services in a big open space, says Taylor. "They also have big windows with rocking chairs where you can relax and look at the planes," he says.
Taylor attributes the success of TPA in Tampa, Florida—which is the second highest rated airport in the country with an 843 score—to "great management." He adds: "They really understand airports." The airport recently finished internal construction and also does a great job in food, beverage, and retail, and runs an efficient security check.
Another great thing about it? It's the easiest airport to get to in the country, per travelers.
New Orleans (MSY)
New Orleans opened a new terminal in 2019, helping it achieve the highest score out of all the airports in the country: A total of 844 points. J.D. Power notes that in terms of food, beverage, and retail services, it amassed the second highest score. Taylor says that local eateries–including Emeril's Table ("you can't get much more New Orleans than Emeril Lagasse"), Bar Sazerac ("featuring the history of NOLA's iconic adult beverage"), Ye Olde College Inn, Leah's Kitchen ("from what I'm told, Leah's Kitchen serves the best gumbo in all of New Orleans… I've had it and it is very good!"), and the Café du Mode (featuring their famous chicory coffee)–give the airport its culinary star power.
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