The WSJ Airport Rankings expand to measure how the 40 largest airports in the country stack up
Maybe friendly really is as good as it gets when it comes to airports.
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, which bills itself as America’s friendliest airport, scored best among the 20 largest U.S. airports in this year’s Wall Street Journal airport rankings.
We also decided this year to rank the 20 largest airports after that—let’s call them medium-size. We split them into two categories because large hubs really have different challenges.
Tampa International Airport ranked slightly higher than Portland International Airport in Oregon. Both have strong followings among frequent travelers for their ease of use and amenities.
The Best and Worst U.S. Airports
YOU MAY ALSO LIKE
The Best and Worst U.S. Airports
WSJ’s Scott McCartney released this year’s list ranking the country’s 20 largest airports. After looking at 15 metrics related to operations, value and convenience, the list has a new No. 1. Photo: Steve Craft for The Wall Street Journal
At the bottom of the rankings in both size categories: anything close to New York. New York Kennedy and Newark Liberty placed 19th and 20th, respectively, in the large airport category. New York LaGuardia scored lowest in the medium-size category.
The WSJ ranked airports by five measures of operations, such as on-time arrivals, five measures of value, such as average fare, and five measures of convenience, including a grade from readers. More than 2,500 subscribers answered a detailed questionnaire covering a dozen categories of likes and dislikes at airports they’ve used within the past two years.
(See the WSJ’s Airport Rankings and a full explanation of the methodology.)
It says something about the state of airports in the U.S. that the highest WSJ reader score was only a B, with Detroit Metro’s score the highest among large airports. Six got C grades or lower. The average GPA: C+.
Phoenix excelled in several of the 15 categories, with short screening waits, fast Wi-Fi, good Yelp scores for restaurant reviews, short taxi-to-takeoff times for planes and cheap average Uber cost to get downtown. It also scored well among Wall Street Journal readers.
‘Until the light rail opens a stop to the car rental center, allow plenty of time—it’s far away.’
‘Take the Skytrain away from the airport and have someone pick you up there.’
‘Easy to get lost trying to find which terminal and airline you want. Traffic and signage is a problem.’
‘Learn North/South curbs, especially if getting picked up by family/friends.’
‘If connecting, the walk can be very long. Use the provided shuttle service.’
Sky Harbor overtook Denver, last year’s winner, largely on the Phoenix airport’s improved average Yelp rating for restaurants and an investment in
WSJ’s Scott McCartney released this year’s list ranking the country’s 20 largest airports. After looking at 15 metrics related to operations, value and convenience, the list has a new No. 1. Photo: Steve Craft for The Wall Street Journaled last year, according to testing service Ookla. Denver also suffered many more operations problems in the past 12 months. Phoenix finished third overall last year, also trailing Orlando.
Sky Harbor focuses on making a big airport—an inherently stressful and impersonal place—more pleasant, says James Bennett, director of aviation services for the city of Phoenix. The airport even started stationing therapy dogs in terminals in 2017, working with volunteers who give directions.
By branding itself as America’s friendliest airport, Mr. Bennett says Sky Harbor began taking more ownership of the customer experience. In the past, airports often just leased space to airlines and let airlines rule the roost, even though airlines usually just wanted cheap places to load and unload passengers and luggage.
“We want to try to make sure that that passenger experience is as painless as possible,” he says.
Sky Harbor airport bills itself as America’s friendliest airport. To prove the point, the airport has trained therapy dogs patrol terminals with volunteers to calm harried travelers. PHOTO: STEVE CRAFT FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Competition is such that an airport can win while still being mediocre in several categories. Phoenix ranked 19th in the number of nonstop cities served among the 20 largest airports—it lacks lots of international service. A hub for American, it’s in the middle of the pack in terms of average fare and 15th in terms of the longest walk from the curb to the farthest gate.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is in the midst of a massive $24 billion rebuilding program at LaGuardia, JFK and Newark. Improvements have already started coming online, especially at LaGuardia, where one-third of the gates in use are new. But with that has come even more hassle for travelers with construction inconvenience mixed in with record-high passenger traffic.
“We know we have a very, very long way to go,” says Rick Cotton, executive director of the Port Authority. “With new facilities and a renewed emphasis on customer and passenger experience, we can move from back of the pack to first class.”
Detroit was the favorite among readers without the analytical data. Detroit tied for third overall with Fort Lauderdale, Fla., among large airports when analytical data was included.
Tampa finished best among medium-size airports without ranking first in any of the 15 categories. Its lowest scores came in operations. Over the 12-month period ending July 31, only 78% of flights arrived on-time in Tampa, ranking 17th. The airport’s cancellation rate was high enough to rank it No. 13.`