America's Best and Worst Airports
The major American airport that delivers the most seamless experience isn’t on any coast. It wins over fliers with shopping and dining options, the ease of check-in and security, and the friendliness typical of its city hub.
So breathe a sigh of relief if you’ve booked a flight through Minneapolis (MSP); Travel + Leisure readers have crowned it America’s best airport.
In our first-ever airport survey, we asked readers to rate America’s 22 major airports in seven categories: flight delays; design; amenities; food and drink; check-in and security; service; and transportation and location. The best-scoring airports have tackled these issues head-on, refurbishing terminals and adding amenities that make the worst airports look evermore outdated by comparison.
Case in point: T+L readers affirmed that if you’re looking to avoid the worst flying experiences in the United States, bypass airports in Philadelphia and Los Angeles, which are hobbled by outdated infrastructure, overcrowding, chronic delays, and demoralized staff.
You’d also be wise to time your flight as early in the day as possible and seek out alternate airports or regional airports when possible. Baltimore (BWI), for instance, ranked much higher than Washington Dulles airport, with T+L readers considering it the best airport for on-time departures. Another highly rated airport, Charlotte (CLT), got high marks for everything from Wi-Fi access to its convenient location.
T+L readers penalized certain airports for locations that appear chosen without the advice of urban planners. Availability of public transportation could help offset a bad location; San Francisco, for instance, was acknowledged for the transit options. And if it was easy to grab a taxi, or the terminals had large and easy-to-read flight boards, that airport got points as well.
When it came time to complain, readers went beyond the issues of check-in process and baggage handling to single out the lack of play facilities for children at many airports as well as lackluster spa facilities. Travel can be stressful enough, and based on reader responses, there’s a demand for more drop-in airport spas where you can get a quick neck, back, or foot massage while waiting out that flight delay.
We’ve collected and collated the data, and here, based on overall scores, are America’s best and worst airports.
Worst: No. 1 New York (LGA)
Dilapidated La Guardia hasn’t aged well. The airport has the dubious honor of ranking the worst for the check-in and security process, the worst for baggage handling, the worst when it comes to providing Wi-Fi, the worst at staff communication, and the worst design and cleanliness. If there was a ray of hope, its location, which ranked 16th, was considered superior to six other airports.
No. 2 Los Angeles (LAX)
LAX ranked at the bottom of most categories—that includes location (20th), check-in and security process (21st), impression of safety standards (22nd), baggage handling (20th), staff communication (21st), and terminal cleanliness (21st). Clearly, this worn-out airport is ready for a major Hollywood makeover.
No. 3 Philadelphia (PHL)
Philadelphia’s airport is singled out for a lousy design and lack of cleanliness (20th), surly staff (20th), and long check-in and security lines (20th). The only thing worse is waiting for your bags, ranked 21st in efficiency (make that inefficiency). That its location came in at 13th is not much consolation.
No. 4 New York (JFK)
Ease of getting a taxi may be the best thing to be said about JFK. You will wait—and wait—in check-in and security lines, likely wait again for your luggage, encounter a less than helpful, and wander in vain looking for a Wi-Fi signal. All of these were ranked 19th by our readers. Even worse is the airport’s location (21st) in relation to the nation’s largest city. Taxi!
No. 5 Newark (EWR)
Ah, Newark. It leads the other two New York–area airports, but that’s not saying much. While readers ranked it 11th for location and convenience, its other scores—16th for staff communication and a string of 18th places for design, cleanliness, baggage handling, and miserable check-in and security lines—are near the bottom of the barrel.
No. 6 Chicago O’Hare (ORD)
The best feature of O’Hare is its public transportation to and from the airport (with a score of five out of 22). It ranked 17th for design, cleanliness, and location. The overall check-in and security experience came in with a poor showing of 17, while a reputation for snarled flights and stormy winter weather resulted in a ranking of 21 out of 22 for delays.
No. 7 Washington Dulles (IAD)
Flying into the nation’s capital? Well, Dulles is disparaged for its location (19th ranking) and baggage handling (15th). Flying out of Dulles? Expect long lines at check-in and security (15th) and staff who won’t exactly jump to attention (17th). The cleanliness and design of Dulles (15th) won’t lift your spirits either. Our survey suggests it’s worth considering routing your D.C. plans through Baltimore instead.
No. 8 Boston (BOS)
Logan Airport is far from the cleanest major airport (17th) in the country, according to T+L readers. Nor is the staff known for its rapid response when something goes wrong (rated 18 out of 22 for customer service). You’ll probably wait in check-in and security lines (16th), and when you arrive, factor in extra time to wait for your baggage as well (17th). On the plus side, Logan is lauded for its convenient location (seventh).
No. 9 Houston (IAH)
The best that could be said about Houston is that there’s a reasonably good chance that your flight will take off and not be canceled. The bad news? It has a less than desirable location (18th) and lousy Wi-Fi (17th). But remarkably for such a big airport, it had a strong showing in the category of baggage handling (sixth).
No. 10 Atlanta (ATL)
Public transportation to and from the airport was lauded in Atlanta. But a string of solid 14th-ranked scores—for longish waits at check-in and security lines, less than user-friendly Wi-Fi, slow baggage handling, average staff responsiveness, and location—kept it ranked among the worst airports on our score sheet. The shortage of kid-friendly areas was also an issue, given the vast size of this hub.
No. 11 Dallas Fort Worth (DFW)
Readers singled out DFW’s flight information screens as especially helpful. But they were less enthusiastic about the check-in and security line process, for which the airport ranked eighth. With a middling 12th ranking in several categories—baggage handling, staff responsiveness, airport location, and Wi-Fi—DFW came out as a truly average airport. Not the best, but not the worst. At least it’s pretty clean (eighth).
Best: No. 1 Minneapolis (MSP)
This may be the cheeriest and most welcoming airport in the nation. T+L voters loved the shopping and food and drink options at this mini-mall of an airport, and when it came to ease of check-in and security, Minneapolis also took the No. 1 spot. It came in second for design and cleanliness, baggage handling, staff communication, and airport location. Only its Wi-Fi offerings were lackluster (11th place), but that still left this midwestern oasis as the clear winner.
No. 2 Charlotte (CLT)
Need to get online fast? Travel through Charlotte, which got top marks for Wi-Fi. It also ranked first for baggage handling, curbside check-in, and staff communication. The North Carolina hub is so well rounded that it scored highly for its convenient location (ranking third) as well as for airport lounges and the overall check-in and security process (second). If anything, it could use some improvement in the terminal cleanliness (fifth) department.
No. 3 Detroit Metropolitan (DTW)
Detroit’s airport is at the top of its game, ranked No. 1 in terminal cleanliness, design, location, lounges, and business centers. It came in third for service and staff communication and fourth in baggage handling. As Delta’s second largest hub and the carrier’s primary gateway for Asia, that’s no mean feat. The airport fell short only when it came to public transportation options—not surprising considering you’ve landed in the Motor City.
No. 4 Orlando (MCO)
The gateway to Disney World sees some serious traffic, and you may wait in check-in and security lines when you depart; the airport ranked only ninth in that category. But a No. 3 Wi-Fi score, a No. 2 shopping score, and a No. 1 score for kids’ zones means there are plenty of ways to pass the time. The airport also ranked No. 1 for its luggage trolleys, which families will surely appreciate. And while it only came in 10th place for location, T+L readers felt it was the easiest major airport for accessing a rental car.
No. 5 San Francisco (SFO)
The Bay Area’s main air transportation hub won praise for the ease of its public transportation, even though it ranks only eighth in location. And you shouldn’t have to wait too long for your luggage to turn up (the airport ranked fifth for baggage handling). It’s relatively clean with a design that was rated highly; modern, light-filled Terminal 2 serving Virgin America and American Airlines is particularly appealing and amenity packed. The airport generally does have reliable Wi-Fi, which you’d expect when you’re this close to Silicon Valley.
No. 6 Baltimore (BWI)
Fly through Baltimore, and you stand one of the best chances that your flight will take off and not be canceled, say T+L readers. And with a No. 4 ranking for check-in and security lines, there’s a very good chance that you’ll speed through TSA lines as well. And if there’s a problem, the seventh-ranked staff communication means that your complaint should be heard and dealt with appropriately.
No. 7 Las Vegas (LAS)
Viva Las Vegas for having the No. 1 airport location, just five miles from downtown. Check-in and security lines are speedy enough (seventh), Wi-Fi is fast and available (fifth), yet baggage handling is merely average (10th). Vegas lags on terminal cleanliness and design (14th), and it ranked low in the estimation of our readers for kids’ zones. But hey, this is Vegas.
No. 8 Seattle (SEA)
It’s a no-brainer that the land of Microsoft and Starbucks would score second when it came to Wi-Fi and No. 1 for terminal coffee shops. But other factors are more middle-of-the-road, such as location (15th), cleanliness (10th), and overall service (11th). Readers also felt Seattle’s airport lacked spa facilities, a common complaint but perhaps more pointed in this overly caffeinated and wired city.
No. 9 Denver (DEN)
Check-in and security process? Denver came in fifth. Wi-Fi? A solid fourth place. How about baggage handling? It showed up at eighth, not bad for such a massive airport. As for terminal cleanliness, this bright airport with windows that take in the Rockies ranked fourth overall. So what dragged it down? Its location, with a solid last place showing. DEN is about 25 miles from the city center, prompting some wags to say it’s closer to Kansas than the city it allegedly serves.
No. 10 Miami International (MIA)
If you’re landing here to party at South Beach, you won’t have to travel too far; the airport is ranked sixth for location. And after those late nights, you can recover with a treatment at one of the airport’s No. 3-rated spas before heading home. You’d be smart to carry on any designer duds; the airport ranked 13th for baggage handling and for the check-in and security process. Readers also faulted the airport for lack of kids’ zones, but that may be beside the point for the Miami crowd.
No. 11 Phoenix (PHX)
By the time you get to Phoenix, you should be out the doors quickly (third in baggage handling) and well on your way to your destination (fourth in airport location). On your return, it should be a smooth trip through check-in and security (sixth) and a pleasant wait with Wi-Fi (seventh) and terminal cleanliness (sixth). Only Phoenix’s service and staff communication (10th) brought it down to the middle of the pack.