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Was Airport Satisfaction Really That High in 2016? A Business Traveler’s Perspective

January 12th, 2017 /

airport satisfaction 2016

After going through security, I took a stroll through the airport’s lush sunflower garden. I watched other travelers dip their feet into a fish spa. Scanning the free movie theater’s listings, I instead decided to try out the newest FIFA release on a complimentary PS3. Kids squealed with glee in the nearby Xbox Kinect room as they bowled for a virtual championship.

You might assume all this was a dream, brought on by too many late-night layovers. But this gem of an airport really exists in Singapore. In fact, airports across the Asian continent are consistently ranked among the best in the world—I’m used to practically living in major American hubs that aren’t half as comfortable or well-equipped.

So I was so startled to hear that US airport satisfaction reached a ten-year high at the end of 2016. And after looking at the research, I’m convinced we’re still generations behind the rest of the world.

airport satisfaction in 2016 was surprisingly high

Airports in 2016 are much cleaner– and that made the average consumer very happy. Image by Flickr user jackworld (CC BY-ND 2.0)

What Factors Qualify an Airport as “Best” in the United States?

Depending on which study you consult, you’ll see a different lineup of top stateside airports, but Portland (PDX), Tampa (TPA), and Denver (DEN) tend to rank pretty highly. Having made stops in all of these locations in the last year, I understand why: they’re clean—from restrooms to gate seating (a past problem for airports nationwide). They have successful baggage claim systems and efficient check-in. They have open, easy-to-navigate designs. These are all features that survey agencies like JD Power and SkyTrax tend to prioritize.

You’ll notice, however, that shorter lines don’t feature much in this list of positives. Airports are newsworthy for adding pet relief areas or having clean restrooms—but I’d argue that these are basic functions an airport should be expected to perform. I don’t (usually) receive accolades for showing up at the office or attending meetings on time, and maintaining basic levels of cleanliness and comfort doesn’t seem like too much to ask of any airport.

not all amenities improving airport satisfaction in 2016 are noteworthy for business travelers

The United States stands alone–unfortunately, at the bottom of luxury airports worldwide. Image by Flickr user Hernan Pinera (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Industry-Wide Airport Improvements

Yet, despite a steadily increasing passenger volume (around 6% last year), and the billion-dollar renovation projects now underway across the country, consumer satisfaction continued to rise.

In fact, passengers were pretty optimistic about the categories that airports had the most immediate control over, from automated check-in kiosks to retail and dining options. Terminal “malls” have seen a spike in ratings over the past year, for instance, and at major airports, you’re now likely to find local dining options, high-end shopping, and vending machines offering everything from headphones to cupcakes.

But for business travelers, these types of facilities probably aren’t going to affect your experience much beyond a certain point. While I appreciate being able to order a kale salad, trying to navigate a crowded corridor when I’m late for a connecting flight is likely to have a much longer-lasting impact on my mood. And since the “dining” category impacted customer satisfaction the most in 2016’s survey, I suspect that we’re seeing results mainly from leisure travelers, who are likely to seek a very different experience than someone who spends a quarter of their working life in airports.

airport satisfaction 2016 trends will hopefully hold steady for 2017

US airports are undergoing billion dollar renovations to improve terminal capacity and feel. Image by Flickr user rainy city (CC BY-ND 2.0)

A Positive Trend for Airports Across the Country

2016 brought a number of changes that I do certainly appreciate. I’m a sucker for the improved sense of place being curated by many airports, for instance. Even if you never set foot outside of LAX, you still get the Cali feel. It’s artificial, but definitely more interesting than being in a terminal with identical Hudson News kiosks on every corner.

Business travelers should probably take recent airport satisfaction ratings with a pinch of salt—it’s all about your priorities. Yet the results remain encouraging: the general trend for airports is consistent improvement, even if it is at a snail’s pace. Basics such as cleanliness, gate seating, and terminal tech accessibility are largely problems of the past, and while capacity and passenger flow remain pressing issues, I’m hopeful that 2017 will see more improvements.

Still, we might have a long wait before our airports reach Singapore-levels of comfort. So while I wait, I’m committed to ensuring that all aspects of business travel over which I have full control remain as comfortable as possible. I stay at luxury hotels whenever possible, and I use a membership with JetLux Hotels to receive up to 40% booking fees. When I land, I know I’ll be resting in comfort.

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