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Air traveler satisfaction with U.S. airports has reached an all-time high this year and the reason is what you might call counterintuitive: The Transportation Security Administration.
The agency has resolved some of the deep staffing woes that plagued America’s airports in early 2016, and the reduced wait times have had the desired effect, according to the latest J.D. Power ratings released Thursday. Investments by airlines and airports to install self-tagging baggage and check-in kiosks have also boosted customer satisfaction, the report found.
Passengers rated Orlando, Detroit, Las Vegas, and Phoenix as the best “mega-airports” in the 2017 survey, while Orange County’s John Wayne Airport, Tampa, and Dallas Love Field were tops in the “large” category. Airports in Sacramento, Indianapolis, and Anchorage were highest in the “medium” airport group.
New York metro airports Newark-Liberty and LaGuardia, along with Bradley International Airport near Hartford, Conn., were the lowest ranked, respectively, in the three classifications.
New York area airports aside, the overall score rose 18 points from last year to a record 749, with most of the improvement attributed to less unease about navigating the TSA, said Michael Taylor, J.D. Power’s travel lead. Airports have also increased the ease of check-in, with new self-tag bag checks and kiosks, better food and beverage, and retail amenities, the company said.
Airports are also using service animals to help burnish their image among travelers. San Francisco has a therapy pig named LiLou that wanders the terminals, while the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky airport has more than two dozen miniature ponies to help relieve travelers’ stress. Others have dogs who roam, soliciting the occasional tummy rub.
In the large category, three Texas airports—Dallas Love, Austin-Bergstrom, and Houston Hobby—also placed in the top 10. In the medium category, three Florida airports—Jacksonville, Palm Beach, and Southwest Florida International in Fort Myers—made the short list as well.
The rosier picture comes amid a massive travel volume. The TSA reported that this summer’s travel period, May 24 through Sept. 5, saw the highest number of passengers in the agency’s history with an average of 2.3 million people transiting airports each day. The TSA said it’s on track to screen a record 770 million people this year.
The agency said 96.8 percent waited less than 15 minutes in a security queue, with the average wait time in standard lanes less than 10 minutes. And 96.9 percent of travelers enrolled in the TSA PreCheck program waited less than 5 minutes, according to the TSA.
That’s a far cry from May 2016 when TSA staffing shortages led to major delays at large hub airports nationwide. The chaotic lines frustrated travelers and airlines, with about 20 percent of passengers lingering more than 15 minutes. Thousands of people missed their flights, while airports and the carriers pleaded for more federal assistance.
Airports have been generally pleased by the TSA’s screening improvements over the past 18 months, Steven Grossman, executive director of Jacksonville International, said at a panel discussion this week at an airport conference in Fort Worth, Texas. That view was echoed by Bob Montgomery, vice president of airport affairs for Southwest Airlines Co.
The J.D. Power analysis is based on responses from 34,695 North America travelers who passed through at least one domestic airport this year and who had both departure and arrival experiences during the past three months. The survey measures six attributes: terminal facilities; airport accessibility; security check; baggage claim; check-in/baggage check; food, beverage and retail offerings.
©2017 Bloomberg L.P.