Best and Worst U.S. Airports to Spend a Holiday Travel Layover [2023]

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FinanceBuzz found which airports are the best and worst for layovers using data points related to airport size, available amenities, flight performance, and more.
Updated Feb. 7, 2024
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Woman sleeping on luggage at airport during layover

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For anyone who regularly travels via airplane, long layovers can be a frequent experience. In these situations, some airports are better places than others to spend time awaiting your next flight. Many major holidays are on the horizon, requiring travelers to start booking their trips home. During a high-traffic season, layovers are inevitable.

To help those planning travels for the holidays or any other reason, FinanceBuzz wanted to find which airports provide the best and worst experiences for passengers during layovers. We looked at factors such as airport size, the availability of lounges and food, flight delays, and cancellation frequency 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 U.S. airports that served the highest number of domestic passengers, 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 (and sources) we chose were:

  • Number of gates: Total number of airport departure gates in active service at each airport.
  • Restaurant and shopping availability: The number of active gates divided by the number of restaurants and shops open to the public at each airport.
  • Lounge availability: The total number of airport lounges operating at each airport, regardless of accessibility restrictions.
  • Nearby hotel availability: The number of hotels located within two miles of each airport.
  • Lengthy delays: The percentage of flights at each airport that were delayed by an hour or more in the last 12 months.
  • Flight cancellations: The percentage of canceled flights in the last 12 months at each airport.

The 15 worst airports for layovers in America

While nobody ever wants to be stuck at the airport due to a flight delay or cancellation, there are some airports where the lack of amenities and distractions can make the experience particularly tough on travelers.

Rank Airport City Overall score (out of 100) # of gates # of restaurants or shops per gate # of lounges # of airport hotels within 2 miles % of flights with 60+ minute delay % of flights canceled
1 Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW) Fort Myers, FL 26.7 28 1.18 0 0 8.82% 5.74%
2 Orlando International Airport (MCO) Orlando, FL 34.4 113 1.54 7 1 10.44% 3.52%
3 LaGuardia Airport (LGA) New York, NY 37.4 72 1.14 7 17 8.83% 5.27%
4 Charlotte/Douglas International Airport (CLT) Charlotte, NC 37.7 115 0.65 7 3 7.13% 2.62%
5 Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW) Chicago, IL 39.2 43 1.16 1 16 8.87% 3.52%
6 Raleigh–Durham International Airport (RDU) Raleigh/Durham, NC 40.5 45 0.76 4 5 7.17% 3.12%
7 Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) Pittsburgh, PA 40.7 75 0.64 3 10 5.57% 3.30%
8 Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW) Detroit, MI 41.1 129 0.50 9 2 6.23% 2.07%
9 St. Louis Lambert International Airport (STL) St. Louis, MO 41.5 86 0.69 4 21 6.71% 3.44%
10 John Glenn Columbus International Airport (CMH) Columbus, OH 42.0 34 0.76 2 8 6.04% 3.48%
11 Denver International Airport (DEN) Denver, CO 42.0 148 1.30 11 1 8.32% 2.58%
12 Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) Newark, NJ 43.4 112 1.75 12 14 9.96% 4.74%
13 Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) Baltimore, MD 43.9 78 1.35 6 14 8.35% 3.58%
14 Nashville International Airport (BNA) Nashville, TN 44.2 69 0.54 4 23 6.31% 3.16%
15 Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport (MSP) Minneapolis, MN 44.7 131 0.88 7 3 5.92% 1.71%

Despite being one of America’s top tourist destinations, Florida is home to the two worst airports for layovers in the country.

Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW) in Fort Myers finished as the lowest ranked airport for layovers thanks to a combination of a high number of flight delays and cancellation percentages, and a complete lack of airport lounges and nearby hotels.

Orlando International Airport (MCO) is the second-worst and has an even higher percentage of flights that experience lengthy delays. But Orlando’s additional amenities put it ahead of RSW in the ranking.

Two different airports near New York City also land in the bottom 15 of U.S. airports. LaGuardia Airport (LGA) is the third-worst airport in America for layovers, while Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) is the twelfth. Both airports have high delay and cancellation rates as well as middling to low numbers of lounges and nearby hotels.

The 15 best airports for layovers in America

While some airports are devoid of lounges, dining, and shopping options, there are plenty of others that offer those amenities and more for passengers waiting to get on their flight.

Rank Airport City Overall score (out of 100) # of gates # of restaurants or shops per gate # of lounges # of airport hotels within 2 miles % of flights with 60+ minute delay % of flights canceled
1 Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) Los Angeles, CA 81.2 152 1.16 23 61 5.42% 1.48%
2 San Francisco International Airport (SFO) San Francisco, CA 75.1 115 1.26 24 16 5.34% 1.56%
3 San Diego International Airport (SAN) San Diego, CA 70.4 48 1.23 5 58 4.98% 2.00%
4 San José Mineta International Airport (SJC) San Jose, CA 67.7 36 1.39 2 43 4.70% 2.11%
5 Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL) Honolulu, HI 66.1 60 0.82 14 3 3.91% 0.92%
6 John Wayne Airport (SNA) Santa Ana, CA 65.4 22 1.09 3 48 5.46% 2.52%
7 San Antonio International Airport (SAT) San Antonio, TX 65.3 28 1.50 2 37 5.30% 2.31%
8 William P. Hobby Airport (HOU) Houston, TX 64.6 30 1.83 2 37 6.36% 2.61%
9 Seattle/Tacoma International Airport (SEA) Seattle, WA 64.3 96 0.94 12 27 4.61% 2.00%
10 Tampa International Airport (TPA) Tampa, FL 63.4 59 1.29 4 32 7.55% 3.48%
11 Miami International Airport (MIA) Miami, FL 63.1 131 1.69 12 80 8.65% 2.79%
12 Kansas City International Airport (MCI) Kansas City, MO 60.5 40 1.25 1 1 5.77% 3.02%
13 John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) New York, NY 60.4 130 1.63 29 4 9.88% 3.57%
14 Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) Cincinnati, OH 60.2 50 0.90 5 66 6.33% 2.95%
15 Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (CLE) Cleveland, OH 60.1 46 1.30 4 67 6.54% 3.78%

While Florida dominated the list of worst airports for layovers, a different state took the top four places (and five of the top six) for airports that are best for layovers. That state is California.

Los Angeles International (LAX), San Francisco International (SFO), San Diego International (SAN), and San Jose International (SJC) finished first through fourth on our “best” list. Each of those airports features low percentages of delayed or canceled flights, as well as a high number of lounges and/or nearby hotels.

The top-ranked non-California airport is Honolulu International (HNL) in Honolulu, Hawaii. Alongside a good number of lounges, HNL has the lowest percentage of canceled flights in the country. HNL also has the lowest percentage of flights experiencing 60+ minute delays.

How to make your next layover more enjoyable

While layovers can certainly be inconvenient, there are ways to make your extra time at the airport more pleasant:

  • Earn travel rewards and have peace of mind. By using one of the best travel credit cards to book your trip, you can earn points before you even step foot in an airport. Additionally, many top travel cards come with trip delay and trip cancellation insurance, so if your flight is delayed, at least you'll be protected.
  • Sit back and relax in a lounge. Credit cards don’t just grant you points and trip insurance. Some credit cards grant you access into airport lounges so you can enjoy food and beverages in a quiet area away from the main gates.
  • Earn without annual fees. If you want to get top-tier value out of your travel rewards, use one of the best travel cards with no annual fee. Avoiding annual fees is a great way to maximize how much you can earn while traveling.

Methodology

For this analysis, FinanceBuzz looked at the 50 U.S. airports with the highest passenger volume in 2022 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 to 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 to 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 shopping availability: 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: The total number of airport lounges operating at each airport, regardless of accessibility restrictions. (Source: LoungeBuddy)
  • Nearby hotel availability: The number of hotels located within two miles of each airport. (Source: Yelp)
  • Lengthy delays: The percentage of flights at each airport that were delayed by an hour or more in the last 12 months. (Source: Bureau of Transportation Statistics)
  • Flight cancellations: The percentage of canceled flights in the last 12 months at each airport. (Source: Bureau of Transportation Statistics)

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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.

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