What are the best, and worst, airports in the United States?

October 23, 2018, 2:53 PM · What are the best and worst airports to connect through in the United States? Online booking site Orbitz decided to find out, ranking the nation's 15 busiest airports on nine criteria, including their number of shops and restaurants, wifi speeds, on-time departures and canceled flights.

The conclusion? Go ahead and book that connect through Atlanta. (Breaking news: Stock prices of torch and pitchfork manufacturers rise sharply as people read that statement.) But whatever you do, avoid connecting through Charlotte and Newark. (Gotta agree with that, right? Full disclosure of bias, though. I have been to 49 of the 50 states. The one I have avoided? New Jersey.)

Popular theme park destinations Orlando and Los Angeles placed back-to-back just under the halfway point on the list, with LAX getting dinged for its low number of stores, even though it came in third for places to eat. Orlando was pretty much the middle of the pack throughout, though it offered a below-average number of lounges.

Here's the list, from best connection option to the worst. The number in parentheses is the airport's rank for number of passengers carried last year.

  1. (1) Atlanta: Most shopping outlets, highest percent of on-time departures
  2. (9) Seattle-Tacoma: Highest wifi speed, lowest percent of canceled flights, cheapest public lounges
  3. (8) Las Vegas: Cheapest members-only lounges
  4. (3) Chicago O'Hare
  5. (7) San Francisco: Most public lounges
  6. (6) New York JFK: Most dining locations, most members-only lounges
  7. (4) Dallas/Fort Worth
  8. (5) Denver
  9. (11) Orlando
  10. (2) Los Angeles: Fewest shopping outlets
  11. (13) Phoenix: Lowest wifi speed
  12. (12) Miami
  13. (15) Houston
  14. (14) Newark: Fewest dining locations, lowest percent of on-time departures, highest percent of canceled flights
  15. (10) Charlotte: Fewest members-only lounges

The trick with an analysis like this, though, is that some airports allow you to access only part of their terminal without having to go back through security. That limits your options for food, shops, and lounges on a tight connection time. Travelers flying through Orlando are limited to using the facilities in the one of the four airsides where they land., while at LAX, you're pretty much stuck in one or two of its nine terminals. If you're flying on Delta through LAX, for example, you get the airport's Shake Shack. Through Orlando on Delta, you get pretty much crap. (Table service restaurants on an connection are the airport equivalent of playing the lottery. Will your meal get to the table on time?)

Ultimately, most airline passengers in the U.S. have a limited choice of options for where to connect, as the consolidating airline industry has left many cities with a smaller number of airlines and flights. But when you do have a choice, it's nice to have some data to guide your decision.

What are your favorite, and most hated, airports for connections?

Replies (17)

October 23, 2018 at 3:17 PM

I'm surprised LAX made it as high on the list as it did. But then again I've never had to make a connection there, it's always either been my start or end point. Drop off and pick up is so tedious there, I don't bother asking relatives to help me anymore because I feel bad for them.

October 23, 2018 at 3:47 PM

I've passed through pretty much all of the worlds major airports and i'll say by far my favorites are the small ones no one cares about. Yea places like Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing etc are massive and have lots of creature comforts/great for the economy because they move lots of people, but i've also done the smaller alternative airports in some of those cities and its just so much more enjoyable without all the people and fluff.

Of the worlds big airports my favorite is probably Narita, because, well, its in Tokyo so its efficient and friendly (though oddly enough the staff at Haneda weren't very friendly, but that also may because my Japanese is severely lacking lol).

Of the USA's major airports honestly i'd have to say Atlanta. The city may be frustrating as hell to navigate but its airport is actually laid out really well and efficient, i've never had any issues with connections.

The worst one by far in the USA in terms of layout is LAX. It makes no sense whatsoever and connections can have you walking in and out all over gods creation, traffic is a mess all the time, and it just looks trashed. I remember tons and tons of construction going on over the years with promises that they were fixing it and somehow it looks even worse now than ever before. Compare that to many other airports where they have done major construction and it looks beautiful now (Orlando for example). That's California for you.

I also especially disdain traveling to the northeast corridor in general not just because I hate the airports (although Newark can best be described as a hole), the staff at these places are almost always really rude in the NY/NJ/Philly area.

My favorites in the USA that i've been to are Harrisburg PA, Orlando Sanford, Cleveland, Baltimore etc...all the small ones.

October 23, 2018 at 3:42 PM

I'm from Chicago so used to both O'Hare and Midway. Enjoy both a lot, O'Hare more area but Midway offers a lot of stuff too and not as chaotic.

Orlando I've just loved for all its amazing shops and the fun shuttle and great to visit and spend time there. Atlanta I've only been to once and a rather miserable travel experience stuck there for about eight hours.

Also, Denver's very large and Logan not too bad either.

Otherwise, not too much in the other airports on the list but do appreciate one where, if need be, you can be comfortable going around in shops and such while a delay occurs which is why Orlando is still great for me.

October 23, 2018 at 4:06 PM

I’ve had the opportunity to visit many of airports in the U.S. as well as the world. Some of my favorites are Long Beach, California. It’s small, and close to Disneyland. I do actually like LAX, even though it’s much larger than Long Beach.

I like Seattle’s airport, as well as Salt Lake City. The mountains are so beautiful from the Salt Lake City airport. Logan, in Boston, and Raegan, im Washington, DC are nice. You can take the metro into the city from both. I like Knoxville airport, in Tennessee. I like that it’s small. I go there to visit my cousin. I also like Heathrow, in London.

October 23, 2018 at 4:16 PM

@the man
Have you tried Kansai/Osaka it is also outstanding and being newer than narita/haneda its quite a bit more spacious? Its a great alternative to the Tokyo airports especially if youre visiting the south of Japan like Kyoto, Osaka, Himeji or Hiroshima.

October 23, 2018 at 4:23 PM

At times it feels like you are in a third world country when you see the state of some these American airports. Coming from Asia (including some poorer regions), the state of the art airports, the experiences, shopping, dinning, punctuality, no queues, etc - it's a complete culture shock to see how awful the US airports are.

We were once stuck for nigh on 8 hours to get through Miami airport after landing. Utterly ridiculous.

October 23, 2018 at 5:55 PM

Since the focus is on layovers, Atlanta probably did well because it lacked factoring in its worst feature: making connections from planes that arrive late. Almost every time it's happened to me, the plane docks at or near the far end of one terminal and my flight raring to go is in another terminal, also typically at the far end. Yes, there's plenty to do and eat there, but I'd rather travel and transfer in Charlotte if given a choice between it and Atlanta.

Among the others listed here, I love Las Vegas being so convenient to the Strip (just a five-minute ride from the airport for most hotels there), and Denver is nice despite being so far out from the city because it's a huge, well-run operation. As noted here earlier, LA really does look like it's under construction all the time, and it is a crap shoot as to what you can do due to limited access if any between terminals.

October 23, 2018 at 6:47 PM

Being from Indiana, I'm proud to say that IND ranked #1 for the 5th straight year by Conde Nast. Following IND/Indianapolis is PDX/Portland (again) - and having used both of these airports more than once, I can say that they are really nice, clean, and efficient.

Internationally, I know there are better ones, but in my experience, HKG/Hong Kong is amazing.

October 23, 2018 at 7:23 PM

Daniel Galvan: I have been to Kansai airport and it seemed fine but nothing really memorable. The two main things I remember are you have to take a bus between terminals and in the customs area they had posters that looked like they were made in Microsoft Words taped up all over the walls saying they under threat for terrorist attack lol.

October 23, 2018 at 7:34 PM

Having traveled on almost 40+ RT flights a year for work between 2004 to 2009 and even a lot of recent personal travel, I am not a fan of ATL. I think the layout is great and the love the tram system however, the airlines at that airport (I'm looking at you Delta) don't give one rats **s if you make your connection or about you as a customer. Flying from the West you have 2 major problems, very few non-stops until 2015. I have multiple horror stories ALL on Delta. 2013 was the last one. Have not been on Delta since and if they are the last airline standing I'll drive.

The west coast airports now have several non-stops to MCO. I fly a non-stop now and if there is not one available, I will look for a connection in ABQ, AUS, or LAS.

My least flyer friendly airports (Taking into account, Airlines, TSA, general service, Transportation options)

(1) Miami International (Depending on what terminal, you may eat or settle for beer and peanuts or if you dare a old sandwich)
(2) Atlanta (Downtown Atlanta driving, Need I say more)
(3) LaGuardia (One way taxi far good, Shady transportation companies, good luck getting back)
(4) Chicago Midway (outragous rental car costs)
(5) Oakland (Try getting to BART)

Most Dysfunctional (TSA, Driving to/from, Confusing Layout, Plane taxi, Poor Runway design)

(1) Charlotte (Obnoxious TSA, Taxi to eastern runway can delay flt 1 hour (11 min flight to Greenville SC, 57 minutes taxi), Overly cater to 1st class, and business class far more than other airports) I don't mind 1st class or business class getting services they believe they are paying for. I just mind that they prolong a flight for extremely late arrivals.
(2) JFK (A mess)
(3) LaGuardia (Airport make you feel like your getting vaccinated or quarantined at security check points, roads to are crazy)
(4) LAX (Gridlock traffic, poor layout)
(5) Dallas Forth-Worth (Layout ridiculous, Not enough TSA, Always seems to be delayed, over 40% of my flight I was delayed waiting for connection)

My Favorites

(1) Buffalo (Very easy to get in and out of, cheap rental cars, tollway access easy to get to)
(2) San Jose (Very well organized) while hard to navigate traffic rush-hours, it has many good work-a-rounds
(3) Burbank (Really simple, old school and somewhat nostalgic, security professional and friendly)
(4) Austin (Good layout and simple, rental car facility huge but, easy to navigate, good signage)
(5) Seattle (Good layout, great lightrail, reasonable)

Honorary mention(s)
(SFO) Although more complex to navigate by car, Tram system gets you to BART and you can be downtown very fast, public transit is great. Food options suck but, it's San Francisco, if you didn't eat downtown, you goofed.
(POR) Portland, once again light rail easy access, simple layout, and good options inside airport to eat.

October 23, 2018 at 8:09 PM

I'm surprised to see Orlando ranked so highly amongst posters. Although I am partial to it because its my home airport, I feel like it looks straight out of the 70s and there's nothing really special about it. Although major renovations have taken place over the past few years it still isn't really anything special...maybe people are just happy to get outside and see the nice climate and wide open spaces?

October 24, 2018 at 3:57 AM

I don't care for shops or restaurants at airports, that is not why I go there. I also don't care for lounges as I don't use them.
I like a small airport where everything goes much quicker.
Our preferred airline started their flight with the Dreamliner from Amsterdam to Sanford instead of OIA and I love it. Customs always is a breeze, the atmosphere is relaxed and from plain to car rental is so much shorter than any airport I know. I love that and prefer never to go back to OIA.

October 24, 2018 at 10:56 AM

I love Burbank too! I’ve only flown out of there once, but I got there only 20 min before takeoff and still made the flight.

October 24, 2018 at 12:45 PM

On only rare occasions have I had to make a connecting flight, as I won't fly any way other than nonstop, even to save money, unless there's no alternative. It's not possible to get from Philly to Evansville, IN (closest airport to Holiday World) or Springfield/Branson without a connecting flight so for my trip to Silver Dollar City in May I had a connecting flight through Charlotte. Except for all the walking to get from one gate to another it really wasn't bad. Charlotte was a lot less confusing to navigate than Tampa. On another occasion when my nonstop flight from Phoenix to Philly was cancelled and they had to put me on a connecting flight, I specifically requested that they route me through Charlotte.

October 24, 2018 at 12:51 PM

Being in the LA area there are options for airports, if we have the choice we will go all the way to Orange County to the John Wayne Airport. The staff are friendly, I didn't have to take off my shoes to go through the screening and we didn't have to walk a long ways to get to the gate. If we have to use LAX we always take the Flyaway bus from Van Nuys, we don't want to subject our family or friends to that horrible traffic. I will wear slip-on shoes so I can kick them off at the last minute and step into them after screening, there aren't any chairs for a person to sit on to put their shoes on after screening. The TSA staff are generally rude and want an explanation if you have an empty water bottle in your bag (I'm going to fill it up at the fountain, duh). i loved ATL, especially the car rental pick-up and drop-off, it was so easy. Dallas-Fort Worth was another easy airport to get through. Finally for a tiny airport - 8 gates - Rhinelander in Wisconsin was great they had state-of-the art scanners with a separate shoe scanner, really nice staff, a nice little coffee shop, and they lets bring our sandwiches and water bottles through the security; try that at LAX.

October 24, 2018 at 5:33 PM

Best airport I've ever been to was Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands. Two gates, one shop, one Cafe, three check-in desks, one baggage carousel, no lounges, cheapest shuttle to the city I've ever seen (Less than the normal cost of a bus in Glasgow), but unless you're off to one of the minor Orkney Islands, its the end of the line.

But my favourite to connect through is Reykjavik. Sure, there's not a lot of shopping options, but there's no hassle gate to gate. It's nice and small and hard to get lost in.

Savvy International travelers who are heading to other parts of the world tend to avoid connections in the US (You don't have the same concept of being "In International Transit" that other countries do, and instead force transiting passengers through immigration/customs)

October 24, 2018 at 10:20 PM

My favourite Airport to connect to is the Minneapolis St. Paul (MSP). I'm sure if the ranking expanded to 20, it would be ranked pretty high on there. Its full of stuff to do while connecting, is very easy to get around in and I have never had an issue with a delayed or canceled flight there (though snow storms do exist out there to be fair). Plus as a bonus, its very connected to the city, with the light rail running right through it to take you to either city's downtown hubs. Mall of America is also right next door as a bonus.

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