Despite travel chaos, airport satisfaction finally went up

People don’t normally use the word “delighted” to describe an airport — unless they’re delighted to be leaving one.

Finding a satisfied airport customer after this most miserable year of travel might seem akin to discovering the Loch Ness monster, Bigfoot and the Jersey Devil playing mumbly-peg in the baggage carousel. 

Yeah, this might happen, but you wouldn’t want to bet the house and coupons on it.

C’mon, peeps, remember the record high passenger volume, the pilot shortage that cut down on the number of flights, and God knows how many weather delays and cancellations?

A Forbes Advisor survey of 2,000 travelers revealed that 61% of respondents experienced flight delays or cancellations this summer. Eighty-three percent of those respondents lost money as a result of travel issues.

Seriously, could anyone outside of a straitjacket possibly be delighted after all that grief?

Well, uh, yeah, actually, there are some delighted passengers out there — and their numbers even increased. 

How do you like them apples, Bigfoot?

Happy people spend more

The news comes via J.D. Power’s annual North American Airport Satisfaction Study for 2023.

The survey measures overall traveler satisfaction at North American airports of various sizes by examining six factors: terminal facilities; airport arrival/departure; baggage claim; security check; check-in/baggage check; and food, beverage and retail.

The study, now in its 18th year, was fielded from August 2022 through July 2023 and is based on 27,147 completed surveys from U.S. or Canadian residents who traveled through at least one U.S. or Canadian airport. It covers both departure and arrival experiences — including connecting airports — during the past 30 days.

J.D. Power said that overall satisfaction improved 3 points on a 1,000-point scale, after a stunning 25-point drop in airport customer satisfaction from 2021 to 2022.

The uptick was driven by improvements in terminal facilities; food and beverage and retail service; and baggage claim.

The study found a direct correlation between overall passenger satisfaction and spending at the airport. 

Passengers classified as “delighted,” meaning they rate their airport experience as 10 out of 10, spend an average of $44 in the terminal.

“Happy passengers spend a lot more money at the airport, so ongoing efforts to spread passenger volumes throughout the day and deliver superior service at all customer touchpoints will be critical,” Michael Taylor, managing director of travel, hospitality and retail at J.D. Power, said in a statement.

Those classified as “disappointed” — 1 to 5 out of 10 — spend only $29. This year, airport passengers spent an average of $3.47 more than last year in the terminal.

New construction helps

In addition, the survey found that many of the top-performing airports in the study have one thing in common: recently completed construction and redevelopment projects that have improved passenger flow, parking and terminal facilities.

“Nowhere is the positive effect of capital improvement clearer than in New York’s LaGuardia Airport, which has climbed from dead last in passenger satisfaction in 2019 to reach the large airport segment average, this year,” J.D. Power said.

Bear in mind, this is the very same airport that drove then Vice-President Joe Biden to declare in 2014 that “if I took you and blindfolded you and took you to LaGuardia Airport in New York, you’d think, ‘I must be in some third-world country.'”

Nothing like an $8 billion renovation to improve one’s attitude.

We’re not sure if Joe Biden ever said anything about Newark Liberty Airport, but the facility wasn’t getting any love from the J.D. Power survey, which pegged the place as the worst airport in the U.S.

And we should probably note that while North American airports managed to keep passengers reasonably satisfied throughout a challenging year, J.D. Power said overall satisfaction is still down from the highs seen in 2020 when passenger volumes were dramatically lower due to the pandemic. 

More than half of travelers say they experienced severe or moderate crowding within the terminal, a 2-percentage-point increase from last year.

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