America’s Best and Worst Airports for Layovers in 2021

Using data points relating to airport size, available amenities, flight performance, and more, FinanceBuzz determined which U.S. airports are the best and worst for layovers.
Last updated Oct 14, 2021 | By Josh Koebert | Edited By Becca Borawski Jenkins
Woman sleeping on luggage at airport during layover

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For anyone who regularly travels via airplane, layovers are inevitable. In these situations, some airports are better places than others to spend time awaiting your next flight. As the season turns to fall, many people are already booking their travel for the holidays, and layovers are frequently a necessary part of trips home.

To help those planning travels for the holidays or any other reason, FinanceBuzz wanted to find which of the United States’ busiest airports provide the best and worst experiences for passengers during layovers. We looked at factors relating to things like airport size, the availability of lounges and food, flight delay and cancellation frequency, and more to determine America’s best and worst airports for a layover.

In this article

How we chose these factors

For this analysis, we focused on the 50 American airports that served the highest number of domestic passengers in 2020, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. We collected hard data on each airport relating to airport size, airport amenities, and flight performance.

The factors we chose are:

  • Number of gates: Traveling is stressful enough as is, and having to navigate dozens of gates to make sure you don’t miss your connecting flight only adds to that stress.
  • Availability of restaurants and shops: Being able to grab a bite to eat and shop for souvenirs are great ways to pass the time while waiting for your next flight, and airports with a greater variety of options make that easier than those with limited selections.
  • Number of airport lounges: Who doesn’t want some more privacy, comfort, and luxury while waiting for a flight? Lounges allow travelers to relax and get away from the crowds in the terminal, which can go a long way toward improving a layover.
  • Number of hotels within walking distance: Sometimes, layovers can stretch on for multiple hours and into the night. For travelers experiencing these kinds of lengthy waits, having easy access to a place to unwind and sleep can be a lifesaver.
  • Percentage of flights delayed 60+ minutes: Layovers already add enough time to a trip, so being able to avoid additional delays before reaching an ultimate destination is crucial.
  • Percentage of flights canceled: If delays are bad, cancellations are much, much worse.

The 15 worst airports for layovers in America

Rank Airport City Overall score (out of 100) # of gates One restuarant or shop per _ gates # of lounges # of airport hotels w/i 2 miles % of flights w/ 60+ minute delay % of flights canceled
1 O'Hare International Airport (ORD) Chicago, IL 23.0 191 1.1 19 8 4.19% 3.11%
2 Dulles International Airport (IAD) Washington, DC 34.1 139 1.5 15 2 2.85% 1.82%
3 Kansas City International Airport (MCI) Kansas City, MO 34.9 60 2.3 0 7 2.01% 1.50%
4 Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW) Chicago, IL 35.2 43 1.1 1 14 3.07% 3.00%
5 Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW) Detroit, MI 36.0 129 1.9 8 2 3.13% 0.38%
6 Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) Dallas, TX 36.5 184 1.0 21 14 3.89% 1.65%
7 Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) Charlotte, NC 38.4 115 1.0 6 4 2.83% 1.55%
8 Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW) Fort Myers, FL 40.6 28 0.8 0 0 4.58% 0.77%
9 Indianapolis International Airport (IND) Indianapolis, IN 41.6 46 1.5 3 4 2.74% 1.20%
10 Orlando International Airport (MCO) Orlando, FL 42.2 129 0.9 6 1 3.02% 0.54%
11 Minneapolis−Saint Paul International Airport (MSP) Minneapolis, MN 42.4 131 1.3 6 2 2.55% 0.23%
12 John Glenn Columbus International Airport (CMH) Columbus, OH 42.7 34 2.1 1 7 2.17% 0.78%
13 Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC) Salt Lake City, UT 43.9 66 1.5 1 2 2.85% 0.16%
14 Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) Baltimore, MD 44.2 77 0.7 5 12 2.72% 1.89%
15 LaGuardia Airport (LGA) New York, NY 44.4 86 1.4 8 15 3.51% 0.53%

When looking at the worst airports for layovers, travelers connecting in the Midwest do not have many good options. Seven of the 15 worst airports are located in that region, including four of the five worst overall.

Notably, both of Chicago’s major airports, O’Hare and Midway, make the top five, with O’Hare earning the lowest score in our entire evaluation by more than 10 points. A huge number of gates, a high percentage of flights experiencing lengthy delays, and the highest overall percentage of canceled flights were the biggest factors contributing to O’Hare’s low score.

Looking beyond the Midwest, we see that hour-long flight delays are the strongest common denominator among this list of the 15 worst airports for layovers. Every single airport on this list saw over 2% of flights delayed at least 60 minutes in the last year, meaning travelers connecting at these airports have at least a 1 in 50 chance that their flight will be delayed by an hour or more.

The 15 best airports for layovers in America

Rank Airport City Overall score (out of 100) # of gates One restuarant or shop per _ gates # of lounges # of airport hotels w/i 2 miles % of flights w/ 60+ minute delay % of flights canceled
1 Miami International Airport (MIA) Miami, FL 66.5 131 0.6 14 70 2.91% 0.33%
2 San Antonio International Airport (SAT) San Antonio, TX 66.4 24 0.5 2 36 1.77% 0.63%
3 San Diego International Airport (SAN) San Diego, CA 65.1 51 1.2 4 57 1.70% 0.54%
4 John Wayne Airport (SNA) Santa Ana, CA 64.0 22 0.9 3 45 1.95% 0.85%
5 William P. Hobby Airport (HOU) Houston, TX 63.9 30 0.5 1 36 1.60% 1.01%
6 Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) Fort Lauderdale, FL 62.9 23 0.2 3 41 3.46% 0.68%
7 Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC) San Jose, CA 62.9 41 1.3 2 43 1.42% 0.46%
8 Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) Los Angeles, CA 62.2 146 0.9 21 50 2.06% 0.82%
9 McCarran International Airport (LAS) Las Vegas, NV 60.9 92 1.2 6 51 1.50% 0.66%
10 Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL) Honolulu, HI 60.8 60 1.1 15 3 1.26% 0.33%
11 Dallas Love Field Airport (DAL) Dallas-Love Field 59.1 20 0.5 0 10 0.78% 1.54%
12 John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) New York, NY 58.7 131 0.5 34 10 3.68% 0.40%
13 San Francisco International Airport (SFO) San Francisco, CA 56.8 115 0.9 20 14 2.10% 0.70%
14 Portland International Airport (PDX) Portland, OR 56.6 52 1.3 7 8 1.20% 0.48%
15 Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) Seattle, WA 56.5 103 1.2 13 19 1.53% 0.45%

When it comes to the best airports for layovers, the scores are very close. The 15th ranked airport earned a score just 10 points lower than the top overall airport. We also see a diversity of strengths propelling airports to their spots on this list. Some have a small number of gates as their top factor, others utilize a wide variety of shops and restaurants, and still, others ride a large number of airport hotels to their high finish.

The top overall airport in our evaluation, Miami International Airport, has the highest number of nearby hotels of any airport in this study. It also performs well related to the availability of shops and restaurants and the percentage of flight cancellations. In fact, the majority of the best airports for layovers fared particularly well when it comes to flight cancellations and, to a lesser extent, lengthy delays.

How to make your next layover more enjoyable

Here are some tips on how to make your time at the airport more enjoyable, with or without a layover.

  • Get rewarded for traveling and get your trip protected at the same time. By using one of the best travel credit cards to book your trip, you can earn points before stepping foot in an airport. Additionally, many top cards come with trip delay and trip cancellation insurance, so if your flight is delayed, at least you'll be protected.
  • Lounge around and relax in style. Airport lounges such as the Amex Centurion Lounge are great places to get away from crowds at the airport. There are a number of ways to get airport lounge access at different price points, giving interested travelers plenty of options.
  • Get free food and drinks while lounging. Priority Pass is a popular network of airport lounges across the globe, and you can get Priority Pass for free with many travel credit cards, or it can be purchased outright. Outside of lounge access, one of the nicest perks is being able to eat for free at many airport restaurants with Priority Pass (or at least at a deep discount).

Methodology and sources

For this analysis, FinanceBuzz looked at the 50 U.S. airports with the highest passenger volume in 2020 according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. For each airport, we gathered data points for six different factors related to layovers. The data was then put into a dynamic formula that assigned a 0-5 score to each airport for every factor, with scores being relative to all other airports in our evaluation. Individual factor scores were then weighted and added together to get a final score on a 0-100 scale. For this particular analysis, all factors were given a uniform weight of 3.33.

Factors, data points, and sources are as follows:

  • Number of gates score: Total number of airport departure gates in active service at each airport. (Source: Official websites of each airport)
  • Restaurant and shop availability score: The number of active gates divided by the number of restaurants and shops open to the public at each airport. (Source: Official websites of each airport)
  • Lounge availability score: The total number of airport lounges operating at each airport, regardless of accessibility restrictions. (Source: LoungeBuddy)
  • Nearby hotel availability score: The number of hotels located within two miles of each airport (Source: Yelp)
  • Lengthy delay score: The percentage of flights at each airport that were delayed by a minimum of 60 minutes during the time period covering June 2020 to June 2021(Source: Bureau of Transportation Statistics)
  • Flight cancellation score: The percentage of flights at each airport that were canceled during the time period covering June 2020 to June 2021 (Source: Bureau of Transportation Statistics)

All data collected between September 15-22, 2021

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Author Details

Josh Koebert Josh Koebert is an experienced content marketer that loves exploring how personal finance overlaps with topics such as sports, food, pop culture, and more. His work has been featured on sites such as CNN, ESPN, Business Insider, and Lifehacker.