Survey: Satisfaction with airports fell as traffic returned this year

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson customer score, ranking shift slightly

The return of travelers to airport terminals earlier this year also brought the return of crowds, lines and frustrations.

And the summertime spike in traffic at airports across the country after the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines coincided with a labor shortage, worsening many travelers’ experiences.

It’s a sharp turnabout from the high satisfaction levels with airports when terminals were nearly empty during the worst downturn in air travel last year.

The result was a roller coaster over the last year, according to J.D. Power’s 2021 North American Airport Satisfaction Study. The study was based on a survey of 13,225 travelers from August 2020 through July 2021.

On balance, airports nationwide were able to maintain a record high average customer satisfaction level of 802 on J.D. Power’s 1,000 point scale, in spite of a significant decline in satisfaction this year.

At Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, for example, dozens of concessions remained closed through much of the summer because they were unable to get enough workers to staff the locations. Even though airport management pushed for all concessions to reopen by August, some remained closed.

That meant fewer choices and longer waits for travelers during the 2021 summer rush. Shortages of Uber and Lyft rides, rental cars and parking capacity in airport lots has also been an issue at the Atlanta airport.

Among the 20 largest airports in the country, Hartsfield-Jackson ranked 10th in airport customer satisfaction with a score of 798, up from 784 in 2020 when it ranked 9th. The study measures satisfaction with terminal facilities, the arrival and departure experience, baggage claim, security, check-in and baggage check, as well as food, beverage and retail.

At airports across the country, “everybody is having the same problem — not having all food and beverage and retail open, not having certain services staffed,” said J.D. Power travel intelligence lead Michael Taylor.

Because many airport jobs are “not the highest wage-paying positions,” Taylor said, “they’re going to have this persistent problem probably a little longer than the national economy does.”

“As we’re getting through this COVID period we’re seeing this significant downturn in satisfaction, simply because there are more people in the airport than there were six months ago,” he added.

Hartsfield-Jackson scored well on baggage handling, and has Delta Air Lines as the dominant carrier with a 20-minute baggage guarantee. But TSA lines in Atlanta are a problem, according to Taylor.

The top-ranked airport in the category was Miami International Airport, with a score of 828, followed by John F. Kennedy International in New York and Minneapolis St. Paul International. Taylor said many of the top airports have refreshed concessions or completed construction projects.