Most of us keep mental tabs on the airports we love — and hate — to fly in and out of. When you find the right airport it can really make you want to travel more. The reverse is true about the nightmarish ones.
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.
Let’s look at the worst airports first, then the best.
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Worst: Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI)
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 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 that its departures are delayed pretty frequently.
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)
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)
Newark Liberty ranks low in overall customer satisfaction, and, according to the Department of Transportation, flights going in and out of this airport are delayed frequently.
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.
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Worst: Philadelphia International Airport (PHL)
Located about 10 miles outside of the city of Philadelphia, this airport serves millions of air travelers every year, 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)
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, but it's still significant, and anyone traveling through should expect delays.
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)
Now for the best: About eight miles west of Charlotte, N.C., this major connecting airport has served nearly 13 million travelers per year, 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. Similarly, we gave it a good ranking for short TSA wait times — on average only 13 minutes — and a 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 an American Airlines Admirals Club.
Best: Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW)
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.
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.
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)
Despite holding the title of the country’s busiest airport, this Atlanta area airport has astoundingly good statistics for on-time departures and arrivals.
Travelers surveyed also have given 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)
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 has been the 11th busiest airport in the country, the number of complaints filed against the TSA is 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.
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Best: Raleigh–Durham International Airport (RDU)
Serving Raleigh and Durham in North Carolina, this airport also tops the charts for customer service and on-time flights. It has traditionally been ranked very high by J.D. Power's customer satisfaction survey of large and mega airports.
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.
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.
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.
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