US airport satisfaction stagnates as long welcomed infrastructure and facility construction means passengers are suffering disruption

North American airports are struggling to keep travellers happy amid construction delays and surging passenger volumes, new research from consumer insights, advisory services and data and analytics specialist JD Power has discovered.

While scaffolding and cranes are official welcome signs to several North American airports these days as record passenger volumes force major expansion efforts, the road closures, confusing signage and delays that come with these projects are making it hard on passengers.

JD Power’s ‘2019 North America Airport Satisfaction Study’ highlights that overall passenger satisfaction with North American airports has risen only a single point (on a 1,000-point scale) year-over-year, following several years of steady improvement.

“It is becoming impossible for travellers not to experience some form of disruption,” says Michael Taylor, travel intelligence lead at JD Power, highlighting that major terminal construction projects are now underway in Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, Atlanta and many other airports.

“While these projects are absolutely necessary to address surging demand, they are currently causing passenger delays and confusion. This translates into a rushed passenger experience and less money spent on food, beverage and retail—and it’s slowing the progress of the airport satisfaction we’ve seen in the past several years,” he explains.

CHART –  Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County ranked highest in passenger satisfaction among mega airports with a score of 786. Minneapolis-Saint Paul International (779) ranked second, while Las Vegas McCarran International (777) and Orlando International (777) ranked third in a tie

Source: JD Power 2019 North America Airport Satisfaction Study

The overall customer satisfaction score for North American airports in this year’ study is 762, up just one point from 2018. The modest performance is attributable to lower-than-average facility access scores, with larger numbers of travellers citing construction-related delays getting into and out of the airport.

But, this should just be a short-term stagnation as the research highlights light at the end of the tunnel with the common bond among the top-performing airports such as Detroit Metropolitan, Portland International and Indianapolis International being their relatively new facilities.

CHART – Portland International ranked highest among large airports with a score of 833, ahead of Dallas Love Field (826) and Tampa International (822)

Source: JD Power 2019 North America Airport Satisfaction Study

This allows them to accommodate increased passenger volume, incorporate localised food and beverage offerings and offer easy access. “Airports that can handle larger numbers of passengers while providing such experiences see a payoff in the form of improved satisfaction scores,” says the report.

On a positive note, improved TSA processes, and in particular biometric screening is improving security efficiency, a previous major pain point for travellers. The experience of getting through airport security has improved 5 points in the latest study due to improved TSA processing and the more widespread adoption of biometric screening technologies.

CHART – Indianapolis International ranked highest among medium airports with a score of 833, ahead of Jacksonville International (831) and Buffalo Niagara International (829)

Source: JD Power 2019 North America Airport Satisfaction Study

Now in its 14th year, the satisfaction study is based on responses from over 32,000 U.S. or Canadian residents who travelled through at least one US or Canadian airport and covers both departure and arrival experiences (including connecting airports) from Oct-2018 through Sep-2019.

The research measures overall traveller satisfaction at mega (33m+ ppa), large (10m to 32.9m ppa) and medium (4.5m to 9.9m ppa) North American airports by examining six factors (in order of importance): terminal facilities; airport accessibility; baggage claim; security check; check-in/baggage check; and food, beverage and retail.

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