Airport Angst
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15 Worst Domestic Airports, According to Travelers

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Airport Angst
JodiJacobson/istockphoto

Airport Angst

Airports across the U.S. are going through a transformation as they work to accommodate surging levels of travelers. From Boston to Chicago and Los Angeles, and numerous places in between, the construction and expansion taking place at airports is leaving travelers less than happy with their overall airport experience, according to a 2019 J.D. Power ranking of North American airports. Construction is just one of the reasons travelers are disgruntled. Limited food options, poor design, old and outdated facilities and uncomfortable public spaces are still other sources of criticism. Here are some of the most poorly regarded airports in the country, according to travelers and travel industry insiders. (And in case you’re looking for a better experience, here are 16 of the Most Passenger-Friendly Airports in the World.)

LaGuardia Airport
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LaGuardia Airport

The lowest ranked airport in J.D. Power’s large-airport category, New York's LaGuardia also tops Shane Chapman’s personal list of abysmal airports. In addition to the never-ending construction taking place at the airport, LaGuardia is notorious for its congestion, says the senior vice president of airline industry relations for Ovation Travel Group. “At times the congestion is so bad that cars are stopped and passengers end up walking to the terminal,” Chapman says. In addition, arriving passengers must walk a long way to get to a holding area in order to connect with ground transportation services such as Uber and Lyft, he said. And while food choices in LaGuardia’s terminals C and D aren’t so bad, the older B concourses are small, and food options are limited, adds Chapman. “There’s still a lot of work to do to bring LaGuardia into the 21st century, but they are making progress,” Chapman says.

Related: Where to Find a Good Meal at Every Major U.S. Airport

Newark Liberty International
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Newark Liberty International

At Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, terminals A and B are long overdue for an update, says Chapman of Ovation Travel Group. “The food options beyond security are minimal, and there are usually very long lines,” Chapman adds. Making matters worse, one concourse in Terminal A has portable toilets in the concourse hallway, he said. Terminal B isn’t much better. “Security in Terminal B only has TSA Pre-Check at certain times and no CLEAR available,” Chapman says. On the bright side, work has begun on a new terminal A, so there is some light at the end of the … concourse, Chapman jokes.

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Sky Harbor's Control Tower with Downtown Phoenix in the distance
Sky Harbor's Control Tower with Downtown Phoenix in the distance by ZHoover123 (CC BY-SA)

Phoenix Sky Harbor

Arizona's Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport serves as a connection hub for some major carriers, yet the airport’s layout makes it challenging for travelers to make tight connections, Chapman says. “Concourses are long, and if you happen to arrive at the end of one concourse, it can take you 30 to 40 minutes to get off a plane and get over to another gate,” says Chapman. In addition, food offerings in Sky Harbor are dated and often are plagued by long lines when numerous flights arrive.

Related: 25 Annoying Airline Upcharges That Are Actually Worth It

Philadelphia International Airport, LEGO replica of Liberty Bell
Philadelphia International Airport, LEGO replica of Liberty Bell by Ii2nmd (CC BY-SA)

Philadelphia International Airport

Among the drawbacks at this airport is its continued use of buses for some passenger transport operations, says Chapman of Ovation Travel Group. But that’s not all. “The airport is dated and seems like you are in a modular trailer at times,” Chapman continues. “Ceilings are low, and concourses are tight.” While Terminal B has been updated recently, the other terminals are still in need of a facelift.

Related: 15 Expert Secrets to Stress-Free Flying

Los Angeles International Airport
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Los Angeles International Airport

The airport ranked second-worst on the J.D. Power index for mega airports, LAX is plagued by ongoing construction, Chapman says. The airport has also recently done away with ride sharing pick-ups at its terminals. “The loss of for-hire pickups at the terminals have made the arrival at LAX a much longer experience,” says Chapman. “Busing is provided by the airport to a holding field similar to what is done in LaGuardia, and I don’t think there is a permanent fix for this right now due to the constraints of the airport’s footprint.”

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport
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Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport

The experience at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood in Florida leaves a lot to be desired, says frequent traveler and travel blogger Shubhanja Sikdar, who writes for the Byond Travel Blog. “When compared to airports such as New York’s JFK, this airport is old and outdated with no proper signage or seating, which makes it tough for travelers who are visiting for the very first time,” Sikdar says. “I was also not very impressed with the food options, and some of the staff can be rude. There are long queues and no proper cleanliness.” Sikdar’s criticism is echoed by many other travelers who have posted feedback on the airport ranking and review site Skytrax.

Orlando International Airport
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Orlando International Airport

Long lines for food at this Florida airport have caused Sikdar, writer for the Byond Travel Blog, to nearly miss a flight on two different occasions. “The food is also very expensive, and the confusing airport layout isn’t the easiest for travelers to navigate,” Sikdar added. Yet another issue — lack of places to sit. “Given the paucity of seating here, I once stood for two hours while waiting near the gate for my flight,” Sikdar said. Skytrax reviewers echoed many of Sikdar’s criticisms calling out the airport for long lines, rude TSA agents, and more.

Related: 16 Ways to Get Through TSA Airport Security Faster

John F. Kennedy International Airport

John F. Kennedy International Airport

Two words: old and outdated. That’s how Sikdar, writer for Byond Travel Blog, describes New York’s most famous airport. “There are no proper signs to guide the passengers, and the staff can also be unhelpful at times,” Sikdar explains. “On my last trip, I had to wait almost 30 minutes before my baggage finally arrived, and it looked to have been manhandled.” Skytrax reviewers also criticize JFK labeling it despicable, disorganized, and filled with rude employees and confusing signage.

O’Hare International Airport
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O’Hare International Airport

The airport ranked third-lowest on J.D. Power’s index for mega airports, Chicago’s O’Hare is not winning a ton of praise from passengers no matter where you look. Raj Mahal, founder of the travel planning app PlanMoreTrips, says many of his app’s users complain about various airports on the platform. “The airport with the biggest complaints right now is Chicago’s O'Hare because it’s an extremely old airport,” Mahal says. “And currently the train connecting the terminals is being redone so passengers who have to connect between terminals have to stand outside and take a bus, which makes for long lines and not so nice in the winter when it is zero degrees outside.”

San Francisco International Airport
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San Francisco International Airport

SFO is travel blogger Tatiana Sorokina’s home airport and that fact is less than comforting for the creator of the siteFamily Road Trip Guru. “I travel a lot and mostly from SFO, which I consider, unfortunately, one of the worst in the U.S. because of the delays always and with everything,” says Sorokina. “Your plane can arrive on time but you can then sit in tarmac for an hour waiting for a gate. You can board on time and then wait for an hour for departure clearance. And don't get me started on how long it takes to get luggage.” The main problem, as Sorkina sees it, is that “SFO is designed to land two planes simultaneously, but the slightest wind or rain closes down at least one runway and the remaining runway becomes clogged. And since SFO is prone to bad weather influence, it always experiences issues.”

Honolulu International Airport
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Honolulu International Airport

The J.D. Power index of airports gives Honolulu International Airport low marks, ranking it second to last in the large-airport category. Skytrax reviews also had less than favorable things to say about this facility noting that it is often hot and humid, there are limited food or beverage options after 10 p.m., and the restrooms are less than appealing. Yet another traveler noted that the rental car return signage at the airport is so inadequate it took several times of circling around before finding the right route to drop off a vehicle.

Bradley International Airport Food Court and Shopping Hall
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Bradley International Airport | Hartford, Connecticut

Coming in third from last in the J.D. Power ranking of medium-sized airports, Bradley International actually receives mixed reviews from travelers with many applauding the facility calling it one of the best airports in the region and describing it as a place that's easy to get in and out of and is rarely crowded. Other travelers, however, complain parking at Bradley is confusing, describe the staff as less than friendly, and gripe that there are not nearly enough restrooms.

Cleveland Hopkins International Airport
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Cleveland Hopkins International Airport

Second to last on the J.D. Power ranking of medium-sized airports in the U.S., Cleveland’s airport is described by travelers as cramped and severely outdated. The food offerings are labeled terrible by passengers posting feedback on Skytrax, and the attitude of airport employees is also not winning a ton of praise from those passing through this facility. Signage in the airport’s parking garages, meanwhile, is called misleading.

Habitat at Kahului Airport
Habitat at Kahului Airport by Forest and Kim Starr (CC BY-SA)

Kahului Airport | Maui, Hawaii

One last airport that’s best avoided if at all possible, Kahului comes in at the very bottom of J.D. Power’s ranking for medium-sized facilities. Among the major drawbacks here, according to passengers, are a lack of air conditioning, long lines, and less than helpful signage. And while bathrooms on an airplane are no prize, you may want to wait until you board your flight before using the facilities because the bathrooms at Kahului have been described as dirty, small, and outdated.