What’s the Best Airport in the United States?

Brian Sumers expresses concern at the silly naming of LAX as the best airport in North America by Business Traveller magazine.

There’s no conceivable universe in which LAX is the best airport in North America. In many ways it belongs grouped with the worst airports. Unquestionably the Tom Bradley terminal is one of the most improved. But many of the terminals are unconnected inside security, and it can take 20 minutes or more just to drive around the terminals. Traffic at that airport is horrendous.

Over the summer I named LAX the second worst airport in the U.S.. I grouped it with Miami, New York JFK, and Washington Dulles.

    jfk is one of the worst airports in the US
    You take a train outside security between terminals at JFK.. and a train to where you can pick up hotel shuttles.

But what are the best airports?

It’s tough to come up with a clear winner, the way Singapore and Seoul Incheon stand out in Asia (Hong Kong has many partisans, I actually like Bangkok Suvarnabhumi more than most, and rank Seoul lower than conventional wisdom due to time from Seoul’s city center). In Europe I’m partial to Munich and Vienna.

In the U.S. we might consider but also must reject:

  • San Francisco. The terminals are generally modern and fresh, and the food offerings are very good. But parallel runways just 750 feet apart mean that whenever there’s any fog off the bay the airport’s capacity drops in half and delays stack up.

    sfo check-in

  • Denver. Reasonably modern airport, but baggage has always been a mess and distance from city center takes it out of contention.
  • Las Vegas. It’s close to the city center, but cab lines are awful, and once you make it through security you still have to take a train out to gates.

We might reasonably include in any finals:

  • San Diego. Close to city center. Gates are reasonably close once you’ve cleared security. On the flip side, terminals aren’t the most modern, dining options aren’t fantastic.
  • Dallas Fort-Worth. The airport grounds are larger than the island of Manhattan, but if you enter the correct terminal there’s very little distance to walk. The airport train is pretty efficient. There’s plenty of dining options and lounges. The international D terminal is one of the brightest and most modern in the country. Terminal A’s refresh is taking too long but offers improvements. You get a pretty good experience if you’re flying American, though flying other domestic airlines things aren’t as pretty.

    dfw is one of the best airports in the US

Delta hubs Detroit and Minneapolis are surprisingly good, and Salt Lake City isn’t awful. Chicago O’Hare is a bad airport but has Tortas Frontera, which is a saving grace.

What do you think is the best airport in the United States?

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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  1. Atlanta, after flying out of there for 10 years I miss it because now I find myself connecting through it.

    Plenty of things to do, have a long layover? Take MARTA into the city. Hungry? lots of great food. There’s even two hotels on the tram line to the rental car center.

  2. Note that LAX is now connected airside between T4, T5, T6, T7 & T8. Next year TBIT joins that group.

  3. I think what makes a great airport for me might make a terrible one for you. LGA is an antiquated facility with terrible parking and highway access, but yet it is very close to NYC, both by a reasonable cab ride and the M60 bus to the N/R subway for a 45 minute trip to Manhattan. Once you’re at the airport, it’s so quick to get from the entrance to the gate. The amenities are not great, but most folks are not connecting AND the flight lengths are limited by the 1500-mile rule, so what does it matter?

    I love great internal and external transit systems, like at DFW and ATL, but I hate having to make tight connections when flights are placed at opposite ends of the airport!

  4. I’ve got to agree on RDU. They have great food options, although they are limited. 5 guys, 42nd street oyster bar, BBQ and SBUX.

    Security is generally very predictable. Good presence from both Delta and AA.

    I would like to see more international destinations but a great airport never the less.

  5. Tampa
    At TPA, with carry-on luggage, you can be off the plane, and at your car within 15 minutes

  6. Tampa
    At TPA, with carry-on luggage, you can be off the plane, and at your car within 15 minutes.

  7. Seriously, as a regular commuter from Austin’s Bergstrom Airport (ABIA / AUS), I can’t say enough about it. 10 years as a road warrior, and it has always been a good starting point. Great local food – Salt Lick BBQ, Amy’s Ice Cream. Great domestic non-stop access across the country (and now to LHR as well) — with n/s to gateways like ATL, DC, Chi, NY, LA, DEN, LAS, and more, its easy to get wherever. Short(ish) security lines. Easy parking (on- and off-airport). Small enough and great sideways layout to minimize car to plane – rare to have to walk far to any gate. Oh, and live music and to the fact that it is and always will be emotionally connected with me coming home to see my family? Yeah, that rocks.

  8. @Broc only suckers take the slow M60. The new(ish) Q70 is MUCH faster to pretty much all destinations other than Astoria and Harlem.

  9. I think all these comments are great. Most of all, how often do you see a blog post where the comments are consistently positive?!?

    Life is good.

  10. Not the most modern, but SLC has got to be one of the most convenient. 10 minutes to downtown, with light rail access to boot; the rental cars are in the garage connected by a footbridge to the terminal; security is quick; great restaurants (hello, High West Distillery); connections are very good and as pointed out above, it’s 45 minutes to the ski resorts. Gary, if it weren’t for it being a Delta hub and you irrationally hating all things Delta-related, it would be on the list. Plus, they’re essentially building a new airport there from scratch, and I can only imagine that will be even better.

    As for DFW, Gary, it’s a haul from downtown Dallas and 75% of the Dallas-oriented Metroplex. If you’re going to ding DEN, IAD and Incheon for distance, you have to ding DFW as well.

  11. @Nick I’m not dinging IAD for distance, but because the facility itself is garbage (once you make it to the airport you’re nowhere near the gates, and for united flyers the airport train drops passengers off where they theoretically want to build a new terminal someday not where flights depart from) and because policies are garbage (banning any cab other than a single monopoly provider which doubles the number of cab trips and is awful for the environment). And because it has one of the most corrupt airport boards in the country.

  12. I concur with PDX, SLC, and SJC for convenience. I also like my home airport of SEA, but it loses points for travelers from elsewhere for putting the rental cars a shuttle ride away. Not a problem of course if you’re going downtown and take Link, for $2.75.

    Looking forward to seeing the new LGB, post-renovation. Even pre-renovation I preferred it (and BUR) over other options. BUR has almost nothing once you’re through security.

  13. PSP! Open, outdoor terminal surrounded by the beautiful mountains, 3 minutes to town, car rental right next to the terminal and quick friendly TSA. And for a very small town, good flight options including directtranscontinental to JFK and four direct ti Canada! Of course arriving is always more enjoyable than departing!

  14. @Gary, fair enough, though I’d argue that if you’re flying out of Concourse A or B at Dulles your experience is going to be substantially better. The unified security checkpoint is usually quick, and pleasant, and the train is wonderful (if you don’t have to backtrack to get to the United terminal), and the A/B concourse is attractive, bright, modern and studded with nice amenities.

    As for distance, though, DFW really is a pain in the ass to get to from *everywhere*, so if you are at least dinging DEN for it, you have to argue similarly for DFW. If you’re just transiting, I’m sure it’s fine, but otherwise its footprint and distance from major population centers border on dystopian.

  15. I would like to put a vote in for Seattle.

    The airport offers a subway to downtown Seattle from the airport. The airport also has a great sitting area with a food court where you can watch the planes take off and land.

    As well Seattle added a third runway, and I find delays to take-off are rare.

    Seattle also has free WiFi throughout the airport. And the last final bit that I like is that you can get to all of the airport without needing to re-enter security (something that is such a pain at so many other airports) So if you have a connecting domestic flight on UA, and then leaving on a British Airways flight, there is no need to go through security again. This can be especially important when you purchase separate tickets and have flight delays.

  16. Yeah, as a very frequent flyer living in Seattle, I’d say the airport is generally pretty darn good–I dislike the North and South terminals, but you can get to any part of the airport from any security checkpoint, there’s good food (Cafe Vita, Beecher’s, Anthony’s, Dilettante, Dish D’lish), and light rail straight to downtown.

    I hate SAN though, because I fly Alaska and that terminal is awful. Hardly any food options, nowhere to sit when it gets crowded…

    I like connecting through Minneapolis quite a bit, and Denver isn’t too bad connecting (though so far outside the city, it’s a bit of a pain as a destination).

    I definitely prioritize the ability to get a good meal in the airport, and prefer to be able to sit down and plug in somewhere, too.

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