The J.D. Power U.S. Airports Ranking Is Nonsense

The J.D. Power North America Airport Satisfaction Study is out ranking the largest U.S. airports. The results are genuinely bizarre. They name Miami as the best mega airport in the United States, followed by New York JFK of all things. But to understand why this makes no sense, we have to begin with what an airport is supposed to do.

An airport’s purpose is to help you get somewhere. So the best airports are the ones which do that most efficiently.

  • They are easy to get to (close to where people are coming from and going, with convenient options)

  • They are easy to get through (parking and rental car return near the terminal, security near the airport entrance, and gates near security, an efficient baggage system so that airlines that try to deliver bags quickly like Delta and Alaska may do so)

  • They are easy for planes to get in and out of quickly (no congested alleys, sufficient taxi and runway capacity)

High-end retail helps pay for an airport, since the airport is taking a cut of sales (and often the airlines are, too). But the shopping experience isn’t integral to what makes a great airport.

Airports should also,

  • be clean
  • offer sufficiently staffed food and sundries options for travelers staying a variety of lengths of time
  • have decent lounge and shower facilities if international connecting gateways
  • offer enough space around gates, seating, power ports, and wifi

The J.D. Power airports study says they look at seven factors, but then they list just six:

Here’s the J.D. Power ranking of ‘mega’ airports:

  • Miami
  • New York JFK
  • Minneapolis – St. Paul
  • Orlando
  • Phoenix
  • Las Vegas
  • Dallas – Fort Worth
  • Houston Intercontinental
  • Detroit
  • Charlotte and San Francisco (tie)
  • Denver and Fort Lauderdale (tie)
  • LAX and Newark (tie)
  • Seattle
  • Boston
  • Toronto
  • Chicago O’Hare

Miami is a pit. The walks are long and the terminals aren’t well-connected. Depending on where you’re starting from you may need to take an endless series of moving walkways to get to a train to get to the rental car center, from which you may need to take a shuttle bus to an off airport rental company.


Miami Security


Miami D60

New York JFK is a disaster to navigate once on property. The terminals are poorly connected. And over the years no one has been able to decide whether what they need is a ring road around the complex or a series of ducks and weaves.

Now, Dallas – Fort Worth is a hodge podge of different experiences. The airport is efficient for Dallas-based travelers, since the entrance to the airport is near security and security near gates in most terminals. It’s harder for connecting passengers, who often have to use the airport train. And while the D terminal is new and attractive, the A terminal (partially) redone, the C terminal is a disaster and proper investment there delayed by the pandemic (and cheapened by American Airlines unwillingness to spend).

The notion though that LAX and Newark are better airports than Seattle? Or that massively overcrowded Charlotte with barely room to maneuver its piers, is equivalent to San Francisco is… odd.

Phoenix is drab but generally works. Las Vegas is close to the city, even if terminals require trains and security can back up. Just hope for an efficient exit and that your cab driver doesn’t long haul you.

And here’s the J.D. Power ranking of ‘large’ airports:

  • New Orleans
  • Tampa
  • Raleigh-Durham
  • Dallas Love Field
  • Salt Lake City
  • Nashville
  • Austin
  • San Diego
  • San Antonio
  • Washington National
  • Portland
  • Sacramento and Washington Dulles (tie)
  • St. Louis
  • Chicago Midway and Kansas City
  • Houston Hobby
  • Baltimore
  • New York LaGuardia
  • Philadelphia

The new New Orleans terminal is attractive, just know you’ll regret renting a car because the twists and turns for shuttles to get to the rental center will take as long as getting to the airport from downtown.

Salt Lake City has a new terminal too – which can only be dubbed a success if your goal it to reach your 10,000 steps in one go.

On the other hand perhaps Philadelphia airport – dubbed Filfthadelphia – does deserve to be worst here?

But New York LaGuardia was overly panned even before the massive investment it’s received in recent years, largely because of its proximity to Manhattan. How can JFK be at the top of big airports and LaGuardia at the bottom of large ones? I’d choose LaGuardia over JFK in a heartbeat. Of course it lacks meaningful public transit, and will continue to lack it after a multibillion ‘train to nowhere’ investment.

Houston Hobby, Washington National, and Austin all deserve better ranking. National even has excellent public transit! All are easy access airports that should rank alongside Dallas Love Field.


Washington National Historic Terminal


Washington National

Ultimately though any study which purports to show Miami and New York JFK are the best U.S. airports is self-refuting.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Miami Airport is a wonder, no matter what flight you have it always leaves from D48 or D50, which is about a 15 minute walk from security. All of the other gates are just for show,.

  2. Tampa is great, well-deserved ranking. Austin deserves better.

    Miami is nothing more than the US clone of a big, outdated Latin airport, without the tasty food.

  3. J.D. Power accepts payments from private companies for their “ratings”. It’s not based on any actual tangible criteria but how much private entities pay them to promote their products.

  4. Biased native Miamian, but I fly MIA to JFK twice a month and I love it. I can take the $2.40 metrorail from Brickell and am there in 30 mins. Once at Check-In 2 with TSA, I have a 1- minute wait thru security. Then, the large AA 77Ws typically leave right at the large gates of 26 or 30 which is near the Admirals Club. Super easy breezy. Could not be easier.
    But, there have been scenes where it is pure chaos. But, I always check the app to see the security check point lines while I am on the metrorail.

  5. Agree that these rankings seem a bit off- been to most of these airports recently and would definitely place them in a different order. I do like Miami tho- wouldn’t be my top pick but overall it’s a nice airport to connect through. LGA has come a long way and surprised it’s still at the bottom. CLT is almost always a nightmare with congestion on the ramp and inside the concourses- DFW is not much better…

  6. I think the folks at JD Power might have accidentally applied a reverse sort to their list. Either that or there was some sort of hijinks going on. Perhaps the author was auditioning for SNL.

  7. “How can JFK be at the top of big airports and LaGuardia at the bottom of large ones? I’d choose LaGuardia over JFK in a heartbeat.”

    You said it yourself:

    “An airport’s purpose is to help you get somewhere. So the best airports are the ones which do that most efficiently.

    -They are easy to get to (close to where people are coming from and going, with convenient options)”

    LGA has no subway connection. JFK does. Easy answer

    Best “mega’ airports: YVR, SeaTac, Denver
    Best “large” airports: SLC, PDX, San Diego

    RIP Long Beach. No longer one of the best overall airport experiences with JetBlue gone. Now it’s just something to look at while golfing at Skylinks

  8. You rightly note that CLT is a joke. Note that any major AA hub is a disaster for passengers. And they schedule 30 and 45 minute connections, arrive late and hope that you can run a 4 minute mile through a crowded airport.

  9. J.D. Powers makes a fortune into sandbagging consumers into thinking they are some sort of “objective” consumer oriented rating service. They rake in millions form companies who pay for their “services” and spend fortunes jury rigging the ratings just to make the top of the list. An absolute rip off and worthless data.

  10. Maybe Consumer Reports or another objective non-profit should start doing airport rankings? Just a thought.

  11. No idea what you are talking about with jfk terminals being poorly connected. All the terminals are connected by an air train which is free if you are getting on and off within the airport. LGA has been a mess with construction. Signage at jfk is good. Stepping off an international flight with my carry on I routinely go from the gate to outside curb within 3 or 4 minutes. Really really smooth. Never have significant waits going through security and the lounge selection is decent at least for US airports. Jfk connects easily to lirr and subway. Lga requires taking a shuttle bus. Only 10% of lga passengers use mass transit so that is another reason it is much lower ranking.

  12. Tampa hands down the best airport in the USA. Parking, proximity of parking to terminal, no TSA choke points, nice hotel (if I got too drunk in CLT to drive home), clean and freshly renovated. A large factor in why I moved here. Tell me a better airport and I’ll eat my words

  13. JD powers is about as believable as trumps alternative facts about his presidency. Never take the word of some one who gets paid to review you

  14. Clearly I should be enjoying every single connection I make in MIA, where all six of my connections so far this year have involved going from D to E or vice-versa and enduring the Hallway of Misery connecting the two of them.

    Oh, and gotta love that “climate controlled” experience when boarding an Eagle flight at D60! At least there’s coverings!

  15. MIA Gates D is just fine.

    MSP T1 is a real disaster if your flight is at concourse A & B. Desperate walking from security to your gate.
    Not mentioning T1 and T2 are basically different airports but use same runways!!!
    I avoid MSP by all means!!!

  16. Has anyone been to LAX terminal 2 gate 24B??? nothing is connected there. what a ZOO .but there is the BUS!!then there is SFO with nothing connected till 2025!! they keep tearing up the terminals but only 1 and 2 are connected, If u are on delta u nowhave to go to terminal 2 to check-in and go thru security then u have to TREK back to terminal 1 to get on your plane or go to the lounge.. When you arrive (only term 1=Delta) into terminal 1 you cannot exit from there u must go back to terminal 2 to exit… nuts…

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