A crush of travelers and a surge of flight cancellations sent overall customer satisfaction of airports across North America into a tailspin this year, but Salt Lake City fared better than most.
The new $4.1 billion airport, which debuted two years ago, ranked sixth among 27 large airports in a customer satisfaction survey by consumer research giant J.D. Power.
Michael Taylor, travel intelligence lead for the firm, said the new airport excels with its security checkpoints, new terminal facilities, baggage claim and sound design (think background music, overhead announcement clarity and management of crowd noise), and has improved its shopping and dining experience.
But if you’re waiting to hear a resounding endorsement, don’t hold your breath.
“They’re an above-average airport,” Taylor said, “and deservedly so.”
Airports that serve between 10 million and 32.9 million passengers a year made up the “large” category. Tampa International Airport topped the tally, followed by John Wayne Airport in Orange County, Calif., and Dallas Love Field Airport.
Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport and Raleigh-Durham International Airport also bested Salt Lake City in the rankings.
The survey measured overall traveler satisfaction with terminal facilities, passenger drop-off and pickup, baggage claim, security checkpoints, flight check-in and baggage check, and food, beverage and retail experience.
Thankfully for Salt Lake City, the survey didn’t include commutes within the airport such as, for instance, the much-lamented and much-lampooned walk from concourse A to concourse B in the current terminal — a trek officials expect to reduce by more than 1,000 feet when a new tunnel opens in 2024.
J.D. Power found overall satisfaction with U.S. airports dropped since last year as crowds nearly returned to pre-pandemic levels, inflation sent prices soaring and finding a parking spot became a drag. The drop in Salt Lake City’s satisfaction score tracked with the average drop in the large airport category.
“The biggest problem this year,” Taylor said, “was the increase in passenger volumes.”
In a news release, Taylor said the combination of pent-up demand for flying, a nationwide labor shortage and rising prices has led to jammed airports and frustrated passengers.
“In some ways, this is a return to normal as larger crowds at airports tend to make travelers more frazzled,” he said in the release, “but in cases where parking lots are overcapacity, gates are standing room only and restaurants and bars are not even open to offer some reprieve, it is clear that increased capacity in airports can’t come soon enough.”
Bill Wyatt, executive director of the Salt Lake City Department of Airports, said he’s happy with the ranking because work at the new airport isn’t even done.
“We’re still in the middle of a substantial amount of construction activity,” he said, “which means that things are not exactly normal at the airport.”
The airport plans to open four new gates at the east end of concourse A in May, with the remainder of the concourse opening the following November. The next phase, he said, will reduce crowds and create more options for concessions.
J.D. Power also studied “mega airports” that serve 33 million or more passengers a year, and medium airports that serve 4.5 to 9.9 million passengers annually.
Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, San Francisco International Airport and Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport headed the list of North America’s biggest airports.
Indianapolis International Airport, Pittsburgh International Airport and Jacksonville International Airport led the medium category.