The 5 Absolute Worst U.S. Airports (And 5 That People Actually Like)

Some airports have consistent flight delays, while others have great lounges and short TSA wait times. Here’s a list of airports that may make — or break — your travel experience.
Last updated May 6, 2022 | By Becky Holladay | Edited By Ellen Cannon
airport with people

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Most of us keep mental tabs on the airports we love — and hate — to fly in and out of: the ones with fantastic restaurants and easy-to-navigate terminals, and the ones with surly employees and delays no matter the weather. If your final destination requires an airport layover or is in a major metropolitan area with some choices, knowing which airports are consistently ranked best and worst can really improve your journey

We took a look at all the major airports in the U.S., and based on several criteria — flight delays in the winter and summer, TSA wait times, overall customer satisfaction (using the 2021 J.D. Power North America Airport Satisfaction Survey), complaints filed against the TSA, and amenities — and came up with a list of the five best and five worst airports in the U.S.

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Also included in our round-up are the lounges available at each airport, because there’s nothing like a well-stocked, comfy lounge to alleviate travel stress and get you in the mood for your trip especially since traveling can often eat into your wealth.

Let’s look at the worst airports first, then the best.

Worst: Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI)

New Media Systems/Adobe BWI Airport

Serving both Baltimore and Washington, D.C., this airport is better to avoid for a few different reasons: low customer satisfaction, consistently delayed departures, and — for an airport that is only the 22nd busiest in the country — disproportionately long TSA wait times.

In the large airports category, it earned the third worst customer service satisfaction ranking on the J.D. Power survey, and it topped the list for longest TSA wait times. Most telling, however, might be its departure delay stats. Although flight arrivals were delayed only 20-30% of the time in December and July of 2021, flights leaving the airport were delayed 35-40% of the time in those same months.

Finally, there are only two airport lounges at BWI. One is for U.S. military members, and the other, The Club BWI, is not affiliated with any particular airline.

Worst: Boston Logan International Airport (BOS)

dbvirago/Adobe plane taking off in Boston sunrise

Outside the city of Boston, this hub is New England’s biggest airport. It makes our “worst of” list for both overall low customer satisfaction — third worst for mega airports on the J.D. Power survey — and a high number of complaints filed against the TSA.

Despite being the 19th busiest airport in the U.S., the number of complaints submitted to the TSA alleging civil rights violations was similar to much busier airports, such as Dallas/Fort Worth International.

Boston Logan has 10 lounges; two have no airline affiliation, one is for active military, and the others serve Air France, American Airlines, Delta, Lufthansa, United, and Virgin Atlantic passengers.

Worst: Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)

eqroy/Adobe Aerial view of the New Jersey turnpike and Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)

Under an hour by train from Manhattan, this is one of three airports serving the New York City metropolitan area, and also tops our list as one of the worst airports in the country.

Newark Liberty ranks low in overall customer satisfaction, and, according to the Department of Transportation, flights going in and out of this airport were delayed more than 40% of the time in July 2021. A recent study by Upgraded Points found that Newark had the longest TSA wait times of the 25 busiest airports in the country, despite being only the 15th busiest airport.

Lounges are available at Newark Liberty International Airport for United, American Airlines, Delta, Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, SAS, Lufthansa, and Air Canada passengers. There’s also a USO lounge for members of the U.S. military, and Art & Lounge, which is not affiliated with an airline.

Worst: Philadelphia International Airport (PHL)

boscorelli/Adobe Philadelphia USA Airport Highway Sign at Night

Located about 10 miles outside of the city of Philadelphia, this airport served over 5.7 million air travelers in 2020, making it the 21st busiest in the country. It was also ranked the worst among all large airports in customer service satisfaction — by quite a few points. Those surveyed rated Philadelphia International poorly in categories such as terminal facilities, food and retail amenities, and check-in experience.

There are nine lounges at Philadelphia International, one that is unaffiliated with any airline, and others for passengers of American Airlines, British Airways, Delta, and United.

Worst: O’Hare International Airport (ORD)

Daniel/Adobe Colorful Moving Walkway of United Airlines Terminal 1

Chicago’s biggest airport is also the 4th busiest in the nation, and the worst in customer satisfaction for mega airports, according to the J.D. Power survey. Many reviewers also cited poor signage and a difficult-to-navigate layout.

Although average flight delays are not too bad for an airport of its size — around 20-25% in both December and July of 2021, according to the Department of Transportation — they are still significant, and anyone traveling through should expect delays.

But when you do get delayed, you’re in luck, because there are 15 lounges at Chicago O’Hare, for passengers of United, Delta, American Airlines, Air France/KLM, British Airways, SAS, and SWISS, as well as a USO lounge.

Best: Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT)

Alexey Novikov/Adobe airplane arriving to Charlotte airport

Now for the best: About eight miles west of Charlotte, N.C., this major connecting airport served nearly 13 million travelers in 2020, making it the sixth busiest airport in the country.

Despite the volume of passengers traveling through its terminals, the airport has a very good track record with on-time departures and arrivals. In December 2021, 86% of flights going in and out of CLT were on schedule. And similarly, we gave it a good ranking for short TSA wait times — on average only 13 minutes — and low number of complaints filed.

Lounges at Charlotte Douglas include: The Club CLT (open to all passengers), an American Express Centurion Lounge, a USO lounge, and American Airlines’ Admirals Club.

Best: Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW)

Alan Sunners/Adobe Detroit Airport fountain

Approximately 20 miles south of the city of Detroit, this airport is one of the country’s top 25 busiest, but still manages a high percentage of on-time flights and short TSA wait times. Even in blustery December 2022, approximately 80% of flight arrivals and departures were on-time, according to the Department of Transportation.

And this airport tied CLT for some of the shortest TSA wait times in the country. Detroit Metropolitan also ranked above average for overall customer satisfaction, and was the recipient of a 2020 Airlines Service Quality award. Finally, we love Bigalora Cucina, the contemporary Italian restaurant known for its wood-fired Neapolitan pizza and gelato.

There are several Delta Sky lounges at Detroit Metropolitan Airport, as well as a Lufthansa Business lounge, and Freedom Center for members of the U.S. military.

Best: Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)

Markus Mainka/Adobe Atlanta Airport ATL Tower

Despite holding the title of the country’s busiest airport in 2020, this Atlanta area airport has astoundingly good statistics for on-time departures and arrivals. In 2021 during the peak travel month of December, flights into this airport were on-time 83.5% of the time.

Travelers surveyed also gave it an above average score on various customer service points. The airport’s upscale restaurant, One Flew South, is a dream, and is regularly featured on “best of” lists for its unique cocktails.

There are 13 lounges at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport: several Delta Sky lounges, an American Airlines Admirals Club, a United Club, a USO Lounge, and The Club at ATL (not affiliated with any particular airline).

Best: Miami International Airport (MIA)

Mariakray/Adobe Miami airport building with flags of different countries

Topping the customer service survey charts is Miami International Airport, just seven miles northwest of the city of Miami. In 2021, J.D. Power ranked this busy airport number one on various points, such as wait times, retail shops, available food choices, and check-in experience.

Also notable is that, even though it was the 11th busiest airport in the country in 2020, the number of complaints filed against the TSA are low, unlike the numbers at other similarly busy airports.

There are 11 lounges at Miami International: American Airlines, The Centurion, a Military Hospitality lounge, Turkish Airlines, Club America, Avianca SALA VIP, Delta Sky, and the LATAM VIP Lounge.

Best: Raleigh–Durham International Airport (RDU)

Blue Planet Studio/Adobe Sunset view of airplane on airport runway under dramatic sky in Hobart Tasmania Australia

Serving Raleigh and Durham in North Carolina, this airport also tops the charts for customer service and on-time flights. It won third place in the J.D. Power customer satisfaction survey of large airports.

In December 2021, flight departures were on time a whopping 85% of the time. The hometown favorite bar and restaurant, 42nd Street Oyster, is not to be missed, with its daily arrivals of fresh seafood and southern-style breakfast.

Lounges at Raleigh Durham are for passengers of American Airlines, Delta, and United.

Bottom line

potowizard/Adobe passenger plane fly up over take-off runway from airport

One thing to keep in mind about the airports on this list is that some of these scores are dependent on renovation and construction. Nevertheless, there are definitely some airports that, historically, will always be ranked high or low. An airport like New York’s LaGuardia, for instance, may have been a traveler’s top choice five years ago, but its massive renovations in recent years, and ensuing chaos, may be one of the reasons it received bad reviews last year. But now that renovations are partially completed, we expect it to get better reviews.

Also, flight arrival and departure delays are often influenced by weather. If you’re trying to decide between a connecting flight in Denver or Dallas during the winter, for example, flying through Dallas would be the smarter choice. But if you have the same option in August, when there are frequent summer rain storms and lightning in Dallas causing planes to ground, Denver would be the smarter choice.

If you know you’re going to be flying through an airport with historically long TSA wait times and flight delays, give yourself some cushion time. And if you get there a little early, that’s even more time to enjoy the free snacks and beverages at an airport lounge. Although a pass at a lounge averages $35 to $50, there are a number of credit cards that will give you free airport lounge access.

Ready to book that next trip? Don’t forget to check out this list of the best travel credit cards, some of which, in addition to fantastic rewards, also offer reimbursement for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry.

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Author Details

Becky Holladay Becky Holladay is a finance and travel writer whose work has been published in The Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times, and the California Business Journal, among others. She loves finding out what makes people tick and telling their stories, whether they're entrepreneurs, artists, or changemakers.