Tech initiatives paying off for US airports, but growing pains a challenge

The 2017 J.D. Power rankings of North American Airports shows that investments in technology have resulted in a boost to passenger satisfaction, but the construction programs underway to modernize some of airports in the US is still proving problematic.

The study, based on responses from 34,695 North American travelers, looked at six key factors impacting the passenger experience: terminal facilities; airport accessibility; security check; baggage claim; check-in and baggage check; as well as food, beverage and retail facilities.

J.D. Power reports that overall customer satisfaction reached a record high score of 749 on a 1,000 point scale, an increase of 18 points over last years score, which was the previous highest score in the twelve years J.D. Power has prepared the rankings.

Michael Taylor, travel practice lead at J.D. Power says of the findings of the study:

“Capacity has become a huge challenge for North American airports, with many reporting 100% of available parking spots being filled and large airports, such as Orlando International, setting passenger volume records each month for more than three years straight.

“Despite these difficulties, airports are responding with new technology and old-fashioned personal skills to win over harried travelers. These range from smartphone apps that tell travelers where to find a parking spot to therapy dogs—and in one case, a therapy pig—mingling with travelers to relieve stress and improve the overall airport experience.”

A significant contribution to the high ratings was the improvement in TSA lines this year, which led to a 25-point increase in passenger satisfaction.

The US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screening process had become particularly bad in recent years, with long lines prompting passengers to arrive at the airport hours before their flight. Facing questions from congress in 2015, TSA head, Peter Neffenger, identified technology upgrades as key to improvement.

“I think we’re on the cusp of a very different looking checkpoint experience in the next five years,” he said.

“Technology on the horizon may support passengers becoming their own “boarding passes” by using biometrics, such as fingerprint scans, to verify identities….”

Airports have since taken advantage of new technologies to measure queues and provide passengers greater transparency on queue times.

The biometric processes Neffenger referred to in 2015 are beginning to find their way into the airport experience as well, improving check-in and boarding processes.

Top performers

The top performing North American airports in the J.D. Power study, grouped by size were:

Orlando International Airport ranks highest in satisfaction among mega airports, with a score of 778. Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (767) ranks second, and McCarran International Airport (765) ranks third.

John Wayne Airport (in Orange County, Calif.) ranks highest among large airports, with a score of 796. Tampa International Airport (795) ranks second, and Dallas Love Field (790) ranks third.

Sacramento International Airport ranks highest among medium airports, with a score of 810. Indianapolis International Airport (807) ranks second, and Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (806) ranks third.

Construction crunch

However, the construction required to bring some North American airports into the 21st century is still having a negative impact on passengers. J.D. Power says Newark Liberty, LaGuardia, Los Angeles International and Chicago O’Hare are “still fighting the headwinds of traveller disruption and access challenges that are handicapping their overall satisfaction scores.”

Taylor added:

“The trifecta of a steadily improving economy, record passenger volume and billion-dollar renovation projects unfolding in airports across the country has created a challenging environment for customer satisfaction. The fact that many airports are overcoming those challenges is incredibly instructive for the industry as it remodels and improves airport infrastructure.”

In the mean time, more airport therapy pigs like LiLou at San Francisco Airport, or ponies like the ones employed at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport may be required.

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Marisa Garcia

About the Writer :: Marisa Garcia

Marisa Garcia is the tnooz aviation analyst. She has covered travel technology, design, branding, and strategy for leading publications, including Aircraft Interiors International Magazine, APEX Magazine, AirlineTrends, and Travel+Leisure. She also shares industry insights on her site Flight Chic. Fly with her on Twitter.





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