Airport construction causing frustration for travelers, study says

The façade of the North domestic terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

The façade of the North domestic terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

A JD Power study on airport satisfaction found that construction projects are causing frustration for travelers around the country.

That's a sentiment familiar to Atlanta passengers, where Hartsfield-Jackson International is in the middle of a $6 billion expansion and modernization that has made the airport a constant construction site.

For the past several years at the Atlanta airport, detours and construction have caused traffic congestion on airport roads due to lane closures, forced travelers to walk around to different locations for shuttles, shut down some elevators and increased parking hassles.

"With major terminal construction projects now underway in Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, Atlanta and many other airports, it is becoming impossible for travelers not to experience some form of disruption," said JD Power travel intelligence lead Michael Taylor in a written statement. The construction can cause "passenger delays and confusion" and a "rushed passenger experience," he said.

The construction means it often takes travelers even more time than normal to navigate the world's busiest airport and make it to a flight on time.

However, some improvement projects have been completed since the Atlanta airport's modernization project began more than three years ago, including renovations of many of the gates and canopies at the terminal.

The construction at major airports to accommodate growing passenger volume slows the progress of airport satisfaction in the past several years, according to JD Power.

According to the annual study on satisfaction at airports in North America, Atlanta airport satisfaction inched up to a score of 773 on a 1,000-point scale in 2019. That’s up 4 points from 769 in 2018, placing Hartsfield-Jackson among the top six “mega airports,” the biggest airports in the country.

The top-ranked mega airport was Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport. Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines has its largest hub at Hartsfield-Jackson and also has a hub at Detroit Metro, an airport that Delta CEO Ed Bastian has praised.

But passenger satisfaction is higher overall at smaller airports than at the biggest airport hubs. Portland International Airport and Indianapolis International Airport aren’t big enough to be in the “mega airport” category but scored highest overall.

Across all airports, customer satisfaction increased 1 point, indicating a stagnation after several years of growth, according to JD Power.

The experience of going through airport security improved 5 points amid adoption of biometric screening and other improvements nationally, while there was an increase in travelers citing construction-related delays getting in and out of the airport.