Airports Rise to Challenge of Higher Traveler Volume, Aging Infrastructure

Published on : Friday, December 16, 2016

unnamed-123Even with an increased number of travelers moving through airports—many of which are not designed for the volume of people and flights they now support—satisfaction with their airport experience is improving, according to the J.D. Power 2016 North America Airport Satisfaction Study,SM released today.

 
Overall traveler satisfaction with the airport experience averages 731 (on a 1,000-point scale) in 2016, an improvement from 725 in 2015. Overall satisfaction with large airports[1] is 724, a 5-point increase from 2015, and satisfaction with medium airports is 760, an 8-point rise. The increase in satisfaction comes at a time when airports are posting a 5-6% annual increase in traveler volumes.

 
“Many airports, especially the nation’s largest airports, were never built to handle the current volume of traveler traffic, often exceeding their design limits by many millions of travelers,” said Michael Taylor, director of the airport practice at J.D. Power. “Yet airports are overcoming infrastructure limits by affecting the things they can influence. Airports are successfully applying technology to improve check-in (+5 points year-over-year), security screening (+3 points) and the food, beverage and retail shopping (+10 points) experiences.”

 

Large and medium airports have experienced year-over-year improvements in satisfaction overall, and for all factors. Satisfaction with security check improves the least (+1 and +8 points respectively), due in part to increased traveler volume contributing to an 8% increase in wait times in security lines from 2015.

 

Short-Term Pain, Long-Term Gain

Many airports are undergoing major renovations and many others are set to begin major building projects. Until these plans are completed, it likely means an increase in disruption and stress for travelers.

 
“There are many multibillion dollar renovation projects on the books across the continent. This heavy construction will make it difficult for travelers to access the airport and, once there, it will likely make it even more difficult to navigate the crowded terminals,” said Taylor. “During construction, airports need a solid strategy for passenger flow. Much of it starts with good signage. The goal would be to prevent traveler stress and aid on-time performance. However, once these projects are finished, travelers should notice a tremendous positive difference in their airport experience and satisfaction should increase dramatically.”

 

Following are some of the key findings of the 2016 study:

 
Improvements across the Board: Satisfaction improves in each factor of the airport experience, with the greatest year-over-year increases in baggage claim (+11 points) and the food, beverage and retail category (+10).

 

Local Flavor: Many airports are adding a wider variety of food options, often with localized cuisine. For example, Miami International Airport has added Cuban and Caribbean restaurants and Houston Hobby has Texas barbecue options for travelers. “Offering local flavor and local design elements unique to the area provide a ‘sense of place,’” said Taylor. “For example, Portland International Airport has incorporated regional designs and symbols in the flooring. The color schemes and storefronts make the airport feel unique to Oregon and the Northwest. Indianapolis International Airport has a very open design with a lot of space so travelers aren’t crowded.”

 

Airport Satisfaction Rankings

Portland International Airport ranks highest in satisfaction among large airports for the second consecutive year, with a score of 786. Tampa International Airport (775) ranks second and Las Vegas McCarran Airport (759) ranks third.

 

Indianapolis International Airport ranks highest among medium airports, with a score of 794. Buffalo Niagara International Airport (791) ranks second and Fort Meyers/Southwest Florida International Airport (790) ranks third.

 

North America’s Biggest and Busiest Airports

New York LaGuardia Airport: The biggest news among the New York area airports is the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s multibillion dollar redesign of LaGuardia Airport. Construction woes have contributed to a 6-point drop in overall satisfaction for the airport in 2016. Several LaGuardia terminals are being transformed into one integrated terminal, which will be located 600 feet closer to the Grand Central Parkway. “Those current terminals handle more than 13 million travelers a year. They were designed to handle only 8 million travelers,” said Taylor. “This improvement has been needed for a long time. The new design is going to create major short-term headaches for LaGuardia travelers, but the results will be worth it. The design solves two major problems for the airport: overcrowding and the ability to move aircraft more efficiently on and off runways.”

 
O’Hare Airport: As one the nation’s largest connecting airports, O’Hare International Airport has enjoyed a year almost free of major weather events, which helps boost satisfaction by 9 points. Thunderstorms and snow storms were relatively mild for O’Hare thus far in 2016, helping operations and on-time performance. “The primary reason to take an airplane flight is not to enjoy a movie or to eat a meal; the principal objective is to get somewhere on time,” said Taylor. “The weather has cooperated for much of the year, and that has made traveling through O’Hare much easier.”

 

Los Angeles International Airport: The big news at Los Angeles International is the redesign of Terminal 2, which was completed in February 2016. “Terminal 2’s new design and the amenities it now offers are partly responsible for a hefty 32-point jump in overall satisfaction,” said Taylor. “Terminal 2 represents the wave of new airport designs with a mix of local and chain restaurants and a more open feel to the terminal. While that’s a good thing, there is much more construction scheduled at Los Angeles for the next several years, and the airport’s U-shaped layout will make access an issue during renovations.”

 
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport: More than 100 million people will have traveled through the Atlanta airport by the end of 2016. “If you think about it, that’s putting about one-third of the U.S. population through a few buildings in Georgia over the course of a year,” said Taylor. “Yet, everything runs fairly efficiently.” Hartsfield is feeling the strain though, with satisfaction down 9 points in 2016. The airport has $6 billion worth of redesigns planned over the next 20 years.

 

Las Vegas McCarran International Airport: Las Vegas McCarran airport continues to set traveler volume records month after month. The airport has deployed the latest technologies to maintain a fluid traveler flow through the airport, with self-service passport control kiosks in place since 2014. “That has really helped smooth things out for international travelers,” said Taylor. “McCarran has plans to double its number of international gates and take on larger aircraft. It’s going to need these improvements to handle those loads, but they’re definitely thinking ahead.”

 
Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport: The opening of new, innovative restaurants can drive traveler satisfaction at airports. One such example is the opening of a new tapas restaurant at Dallas/Fort Worth International, which improves 15 points in the food and beverage factor. “Food outlets such as Lorena Garcia’s TAPAS y Cocina are an excellent example of airports offering travelers something unique to their location,” said Taylor. “Texas and Latin food naturally go together. It’s a good illustration of an airport creating that ‘sense of place’ that really helps traveler satisfaction.”

 

 

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