America's Worst Airports
A southern airport named for a political power couple ranks as the nation’s worst. But don’t blame partisanship—Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport in Little Rock, AR, earned the lowest score from a consensus of travelers.
They voted in Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best Awards survey, and the results are in. We tallied the votes for 67 domestic airports in six categories: flight delays; design; food and drink; shopping; check-in; and location. When an airport failed miserably in one of these categories, the other scores were typically low as well.
Many offenders are aging big-city airports like New York City's LaGuardia, with overtaxed infrastructure and chronic delays. Airports that are tough to access and have long security lines exacerbate the stresses of travel.
Once you’re inside, they sink further in estimation if the food choices are fast-food haunts that make you wish you’d eaten before you checked in. When the delay announcement shows up on the screen, it’s like adding insult to injury.
But it’s not a matter of chance. We’ve analyzed the data, so read on for America’s worst airports.
No. 1 Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport, Little Rock, AR (LIT)
Travelers of all stripes gripe about the Little Rock airport’s security lines, which have made local headlines for wait times that can stretch to an hour. It also scored poorly for check-in, delays, design, food, and shopping. In part, the results may simply reflect the fact that this is a small airport, with no airline clubs and barely a handful of stores and restaurants. It does deserve kudos for providing free Wi-Fi.
No. 2 LaGuardia Airport, New York City (LGA)
What is there to love about LGA? Not much. It gets pitiable marks for the shopping and food options in its dilapidated halls. (This is an airport notorious for putting out buckets to catch the drips from its ceilings.) One of the smallest major airports, LaGuardia was not designed to accommodate a sprawling 21st-century security apparatus. And travelers have noticed: its check-in experience was voted worst among 67 domestic airports.
No. 3 Billings Logan International Airport, MT (BIL)
You’d think that Billings, a gateway to Yellowstone National Park, would have an unremarkable—or even charming—airport. Think again. Billings Logan seems to have rubbed fliers the wrong way. T+L readers disapproved of its design and felt it was plagued by flight delays. As for food and shopping, the sage advice is to eat lunch and get your Montana souvenir before you hit the airport.
No. 4 Newark Liberty Airport, NJ (EWR)
Flight delays and lengthy lines at check-in are perennial gripes about Newark, as is the location. (Tip: taking NJ Transit to midtown Manhattan will save you money as well as time otherwise stuck in traffic.) The shopping and food options don’t come close to elevating Newark, nor does the outdated design.
No. 5 Birmingham–Shuttlesworth International Airport, Birmingham, AL (BHM)
A solidly poor performer in our reader survey, Birmingham–Shuttlesworth comes across as plagued by delays and check-in issues. Its location ranks a lowly 52 out of 67 airports. It’s a small airport, with just a few lackluster shops and places to grab a bite, so perhaps understandably doesn’t stand out in the food or shopping categories. While it may be unfair to compare it to its big-city brethren, many travelers seem to do just that. The construction of a modern terminal (already partially operational) may improve their impressions.
No. 6 John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York City (JFK)
JFK rated a notable 23rd for its shopping possibilities, with a selection sure to please those with expensive and eclectic tastes (Bulgari, Coach, Harley-Davidson). Then it largely went downhill. Readers griped about systemic flight delays and glacial check-in lines. After all, JFK grapples with more international inbound visitors than any other U.S. airport. The recent opening of Delta’s Terminal 4 should improve the experience for some travelers (thanks to modern comforts like numerous electric outlets and a Shake Shack outpost).
No. 7 Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
It’s rare to hear an encouraging word about LAX. So when readers declare that the airport’s shopping is respectable—giving it a ranking of 36 out of 67—that may be a backhanded compliment. Check-in, design, and location were all considered a drag. But things should look up for travelers at LAX with the expansion and renovation of Tom Bradley International Terminal. It reopened in September 2013 with massive LED multimedia screens and charging stations; many restaurants and shops are scheduled to roll out in the coming months.
No. 8 Philadelphia International Airport (PHL)
Waiting first in check-in and security lines and then for a flight that may well be delayed has taken a toll on how travelers view this Philly airport, which ranked poorly in both categories. Shopping and food were saving graces; buying a cheesesteak and a Phillies hat might be the best way to make it through here.
No. 9 Kansas City International Airport, MO (MCI)
This busy midwestern airport keeps flight delays in check, with a decent 30th place rating, and the check-in process, at 34 out of 67, is only moderately painful. But when your lowest score is for food (64) and you’re in a city famed for its local ’cue, there’s a missed opportunity here. Shopping is also a dud here, and T+L readers gave the airport low marks for its location and design.
No. 10 Jackson–Evers International Airport, MS (JAN)
Ease of check-in is what readers loved about Jackson–Evers, ranking it 12th out of 67 airports in that survey category. But it’s notable that the airport’s food score came out the worst, considering the bounty of southern cuisine that awaits beyond the airport. Flight delays are moderate, so travelers can quietly loathe the design and pray they won’t get stuck here too long.
No. 11 Washington Dulles International Airport, VA (IAD)
Regardless of which side of the political fence you’re on, everyone agrees that Dulles has the worst location of any airport in our poll. And as one of the ugliest airports, with low ceilings and dark walls, Dulles isn’t winning over fliers on looks either. The airport scored poorly in the flight delays and check-in survey categories. Only its food and shopping make the likely wait a bit better.
No. 12 Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY)
This airport seems to counter all that is wonderful about New Orleans. Check-in can be an ordeal; and once you’re through security, your flight stands a good chance of being delayed. The highest marks are for food, but don’t come here expecting great gumbo.
No. 13 Miami International Airport (MIA)
Maybe it’s no surprise that glitzy Miami ranked 21 (out of 67) for shopping; the North Terminal has an especially upscale selection of brands. But how disappointing that it ranked only 57th for design considering this is the city that brings us Art Basel Miami Beach every year. The flight delays are off-putting—as is the lack of free Wi-Fi and absence of a single kids’ zone.
No. 14 Des Moines International Airport (DSM)
What could go wrong in Des Moines? For starters, T+L readers were dissatisfied with food and shopping offerings. They didn’t think much of the design either and delays are an ongoing issue. But to the airport’s credit, it has spent several million dollars upgrading the terminal and parking—which travelers say is a breeze—and welcomed Southwest Airlines in late 2012.
No. 15 Lambert–St. Louis (STL)
Our readers don’t have much good to say about Lambert–St. Louis, which is outdated and could use a facelift. The check-in process and the overall design of this airport displease them, and the dining options are mostly the usual fast-food outlets like Dunkin’ Donuts and Chili’s—bad news, as the survey suggests delays are commonplace. At least its location (rated 39th out of 67) isn’t as bad as some other airports.