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Of the five best U.S. airports for receiving cellular service only one is also ranked among the five busiest. So you’ll probably never know what you’re missing.
Tennessee’s Memphis International topped the list released Monday by mobile phone researcher RootMetrics, followed by Pittsburgh International, Chicago’s O’Hare International, Southwest Florida International in Fort Myers, and Dallas Love Field. Of those, only O’Hare ranks among the busiest in passenger traffic, coming in at No. 3, federal statistics show.
The nation’s most-trafficked airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, ranked seventh in cell service according to RootMetrics. San Diego International came in last for the second year in the 50-airport study conducted in the last six months of 2014.
Airports are way stations in bigger journeys where passengers are stuck waiting longer than ever before with heightened security and extended waits during connections. While some facilities have promoted new gourmet food options, the real measure of what makes an airport experience the least frustrating is often determined by tech amenities like cell service, Wi-Fi access and power outlets.
A strong cell connection can mean fast movie downloads, uninterrupted video calls to the family and a burst of speed to catch up with work e-mail and project updates.
The ever-increasing number of travelers glued to their mobile devices while waiting for flights makes it trickier for companies providing cell service at airports, according to Robert Mann, president of R.W. Mann & Co. aviation consultancy in Port Washington, New York.
“It’s not only more people but the services that they’re using are more intensive,” Mann said in a phone interview Thursday. “It’s everything from getting weather at destinations to there’s people who probably still trade stocks while they’re waiting for the flight to take off. It’s anything you can do on a smartphone but that just becomes very data-intensive.”
Relatively few passengers get to take advantage of the opportunities at the top-ranked airports. Memphis is the 59th busiest airport in the U.S., according to the Federal Aviation Administration, with 2.3 million departing passengers in 2013. Pittsburgh is No. 46.
That contrasts with 45 million enplanements at Hartsfield Jackson.
Verizon Communications Inc. had the best cellular service, ranking fastest in 31 out of 50 airports, followed by T-Mobile US Inc. the smallest of the top four U.S. wireless carriers. AT&T Inc. and Sprint Corp. took third and fourth place, according to RootMetrics.
O’Hare’s decent cell service may help compensate for the fact that it’s also the airport with the second-worst record in delays, making the wait a little more bearable.
–With assistance from Katherine Chiglinsky in New York.
This article was written by Scott Moritz from Bloomberg and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.