Airport satisfaction declines due to flight cancellations, crowds

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson ranked 7th among the largest airports

Flight cancellations, crowded terminals and pricey food are driving a decline in travelers’ satisfaction with airports, according to a new J.D. Power study.

Overall customer satisfaction with airports in North America fell 25 points on a 1,000-point scale as labor shortages cause service shortfalls, according to the study released Wednesday. The decline in customer satisfaction comes after a summer of air travel misadventures nationwide — largely spurred by a rebound in travel demand that coincided with staffing shortages.

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“The combination of pent-up demand for air travel, the nationwide labor shortage and steadily rising prices on everything from jet fuel to a bottle of water have created a scenario in which airports are extremely crowded and passengers are increasingly frustrated — and it is likely to continue through 2023,” said Michael Taylor, J.D. Power’s travel intelligence lead, in a written statement. “In some ways, this is a return to normal as larger crowds at airports tend to make travelers more frazzled, but in cases where parking lots are over capacity, gates are standing room only and restaurants and bars are not even open to offer some reprieve, it is clear that increased capacity in airports can’t come soon enough.”

ExploreAirline passenger satisfaction declines in J.D. Power ranking

Air traveler satisfaction reached a record high earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic when light traffic and the lack of crowds made airports less congested.

Now, passenger counts are at close to 90% of pre-pandemic levels in some areas. More than half of travelers surveyed described the airport terminal as severely or moderately crowded.

Nearly a quarter of travelers said they did not buy any food or beverages at the airport because they were too expensive.

And parking congestion is worse this year — particularly at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. The Atlanta airport has embarked on a huge, years-long construction project to shore up the parking decks at the domestic terminal and eventually replace them.

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That has reduced the number of available spaces at Hartsfield-Jackson, often causing parking next to the terminal to reach capacity and forcing motorists to reroute to a different parking location. Satisfaction with airport parking lots across North America declined 45 points in the J.D. Power study.

Hartsfield-Jackson also scored lower overall than last year, with 782 out of 1,000 points. But it ranked 7th among the largest airports in the study — above the average and up from 10th place a year ago.

Taylor said Hartsfield-Jackson’s long-term improvement plan and its status as a major hub “has allowed it to weather the COVID recovery better” than most other airports in its category.

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The J.D. Power North America Airport Satisfaction Study was based on 26,529 surveys of U.S. residents who traveled through an airport during the previous 30 days. The survey was conducted from August 2021 through July 2022.