Cranky on the Web – The 5 Worst Airports in the US

LGA - New York/La Guardia

The USA’s worst airport: If not LaGuardia, which one?USA Today
With the news that LaGuardia may finally get a new terminal, I was asked which airports I would call the five worst in the US. I didn’t have 5, but I went with Washington/Dulles, JFK, Miami, and LAX. You can see what others thought as well in this article.

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46 comments on “Cranky on the Web – The 5 Worst Airports in the US

  1. Hah – I gave Ben four as well, the exact same four. I gave ‘runners up’ that I didn’t think fell into the same league, and those matched his other inclusions. But I only came up with four worst also.

    1. Gary – Yeah, I had a few as well that I gave honorable mention. (I put SFO on the list, for example, simply because it sucks operationally anytime there’s a cloud in the sky. In most terminals, it’s not bad.)

  2. for me it is aspen… beautiful scenery, nice view of buttermilk ski resort, but scary to fly into at night in bad weather and snowing, with icy runway

  3. When it opened, IAD was the finest airport in the world. You just strolled from the drop-off to the check-in to the Mobile Lounge. It took you directly to your aircraft with no long walks.

    Times have changed. You now need to have your luggage screened and you have to go through the security lines. Then you have to prepare for the up and down escalators and hiking experience. They built midfield terminals to handle increased traffic. Unless you are going to a location not served by the expensive subway, you take an escalator down to the train. It might take you to your midfield terminal, or it might take you to a point between the one you might want and the one that might be built in the future. In any case, you are back on the escalator and ready to hike through one of these long midfield terminals to your plane. Things will become worse when the Metro extends to Dulles with the station two football fields away. You better wear you running shoes and make sure your luggage is on wheels. Stay fit, and don’t get old if you want to travel through Dulles.

    1. It’s all designed to help Americans reach their 10k steps per day. Isn’t that why everyone buys fitbits and other activity trackers?

      I personally don’t really mind walking through airports as long as I don’t have a tight connection.

      1. “I personally don’t really mind walking through airports as long as I don’t have a tight connection.”

        But that’s the rub. Currently LGA lets you leave midtown or the financial district way later than you ever intended… show up curbside 20-25 minutes before departure.. and still make it onboard without difficulty.

        An airport is a place that’s supposed to help you get from A to B in the fastest manner possible (flying). The base for air travel isn’t supposed to slow you down, unless it’s some sort of plot intended to subsidize Amtrak. :P

        1. Then I guess we should just get rid of all the shops, restaurants and other attractions and just focus solely on efficient paths to and from gates. :)

        2. I guess its a matter of what you want the airport to be. For me on departures and connections its a place where I can get to where I need to be then wait. I’m normally a last minute guy, except when it comes to flying. I’d rather get there with enough buffer and wait. Missing a plane is no fun. Missing a city bus or something happens, and you can either wait for the next one, or go for an alternate means of transportation, but this isn’t often an option with airplanes, and if it is the resulting delay is usually an hour or two.

  4. I find a lot of these complaints silly, especially the one here about Aspen. Some factors are much more important than things like aesthetics or delays, which are more justly attributed to airlines. The article does a wonderful job of copping-out by saying “different people value different things”. Truly bad airports, like the justly mentioned NY area ones, are bad at everything, but places like ORD and PHL only tend to have one bad aspect going for them on any given trip, and a long walk (plan ahead) isn’t in the same ballpark as inadequate seating at the gate area (LAX).

    Ever connect through Kansas City? Awful. Any airport, like MCI, or LAX, SFO, etc where you don’t have secure-side connections to other gates/terminals is a joke. Also, not noted was the cost of places like LAX, where parking rates are approaching $40/day, and a crappy sandwich costs $14.

  5. Newark, especially terminal A. last time I was there they had pigeons flying around the overcrowded waiting area, pooping their toxic poop everywhere. It was nuts!

    this is a weird one, and it’s not in the USA, but I’m not a fan of Lester B Pearson in Toronto terminal one. it’s newish, but I tend to fly from USA and connect to small flights in Canada. USA preclearance is the worst, particularly since you have to get re screened. and the staff isn’t there to help, they are there to guard, stop us stupid passengers from getting in the wrong line and screwing up, and for herding and hurrying us up. and the connect between domestic and USA is so long I litererally stop for dinner midway (fortunately love Swiss Chalet which is midway). I don’t blame the staff, I blame the design: it processes people it does not accommodated guests: that engineering mindset is everywhere and what makes it a bad experience

  6. I’m not sure the LGA improvement plan is going to really make that big of a difference – it’ll improve the roads, sure, and make the terminals look all shiny, but it doesn’t address the operational issues, doesn’t provide any sort of rail connection, and it doesn’t matter what combination of private and public money covers the $4 billion (and likely more) price tag, those investors are going to be looking for a return, so fares are going to go up. To really make a difference at LGA we’d need airspace reconfiguration, and the NIMBY-lawsuits would hold that up for decades.

    I’m not sure what the answer is, since my idea of a brand new airport on the site of the existing, ill-conceived residential area known as “Staten Island” will never get adopted, and my back-up idea of developing replacement wildlife refuge areas so JFK can be expanded into Jamaica Bay and then connected to Manhattan with one-seat public transport, allowing LaGuardia to be closed forever (or used only for GA) is probably too expensive and certainly a political minefield.

    As for which other US airports make up the “worst five”, I don’t know of any that come anywhere near the breathtaking awfulness of LGA. JFK can be a pain in the butt if you have to change terminals to connect, Terminal 2 is a vile pit of misery, and T7 is just old and dumpy, but the rest of the airport ranges from mediocre (T1) to quite nice (T5). (I haven’t flown out of T4.) And the AirTrain opens up a lot of public transportation options. Yes, one-seat to Manhattan would be nice, but it’s still far better than anything LGA offers.

    My runner-up for worst in the US would actually be Newark – getting there by public transport is more difficult than JFK (especially on weekends), that stupid monorail is hopelessly outdated and too bloody small, and the delays are truly epic. But at Terminal C is fairly nice (A & B aren’t great but still better than anything at LGA) and has decent food options, and it’s reasonably roomy – there are worse places to get stuck. (“T” gates at ATL spring to mind.)

    Like JFK, the LAX experience varies greatly depending on which terminal you go through and whether or not you have to change terminals. The lack of anything like AirTrain and the hellishness of a couple of the older terminals makes it, to me at least, much worse than JFK and pretty much on par with EWR, although EWR edges it out for overall badness with the flight delays.

    As for the others mentioned, IAD is fairly bad, but at least it’s easier to avoid than the others on this list (unless you’re a local coming in from overseas or the west without connecting inside the DCA perimeter). The Saarinen terminal lets people go “ooh” and “ah” over the architecture, but it’s too cramped on the inside. I’ve never had a non-weather-related complaint about ORD, but I’ve never connected there other than on AA, and when I’ve been an O&D passenger there the convenience of the Blue Line made up for any other minor quibbles.

    No one mentioned Orlando, but it’d make my top-five bad list – access by road is terrible (and by public transport is non-existent unless you’re staying at Disney and can use the “Magical Express” buses, and the lines for check-in and security at anything faintly approaching prime time are worse than MIA. And LAS can also be a pain because of the security lines and that damned off-site rental car center (as a general rule, I hate this “rental car center” trend with the passion of a thousand burning suns, but Vegas’ is particularly bad.)

    1. Just getting on the bus to the LAS car rental center can sometimes take 30-45 mins of standing in line.

          1. Even to pick up at the airport? That would be a game changer even if something tells me the uberX would always be 2.5x normal surge pricing!

  7. LAX is my home airport and the one we Angeleno’s all love to hate. With the newly remodeled Bradley terminal and major improvements coming to just about all the other terminals and FINALLY a rail connection and a people mover all in the works, by 2025 it won’t suck half as much!

  8. Funny how the “worst” airports are also the busiest. Everyone in southern California likes to hate on LAX, but they will drive from 50 miles away, right past one or even two other airports, in order to catch a flight at LAX, all while complaining about how bad LAX is. If it’s that bad, why don’t you just fly out of SNA or ONT or BUR or LGB instead? LA is one of the few cities with several choices for airports, so quit complaining.

    1. Jim – The only reason people drive past their own airports to LAX is because that’s where the flights are. I just flew to Raleigh/Durham last week with the kids and it was worth the drive to get the nonstop flight.
      That doesn’t make LAX a great airport. It means it has flights going places I need to go. But the experience is pretty awful compared to other airports.

      This doesn’t apply to all big airports. I like flying through many big ones, even O’Hare. But these I find to be particularly challenging to use.

      1. Sure, but what’s the value in having an airport with a great user experience that doesn’t have the flights that you need? If an airport has a better selection of flights, that should be factored into the rankings of best and worst airports. To me, an airport with flights to lots of destinations at convenient times should be ranked higher than an airport with good restaurants and easy parking, but I guess USA Today has different priorities.

        1. Jim – USA Today has no priorities here. They just interviewed a bunch of industry folks and published the results.

          1. Yes, I can see that. I think the people they interviewed ranked the airports by user experience at the airport only, not by availability of flights, fares, and such. If they had clearly specified that, it would have made more sense.

            1. Jim – Fair point. They did ask specifically about the passenger experience, and I took that to mean physical experience. This was, after all, in direct response to LaGuardia getting a new terminal (in theory).
              That won’t change anything about the number of flights or congestion.

    2. As someone who has family in the Inland Empire and almost always ends up flying to LAX instead of ONT, which is 20 minutes away from my in-laws’ place, it all comes down to the old price vs. experience trade-off. ONT is super easy, but there are also only 3-4 nonstops to DFW, and flying to DAL via WN requires 1 if not 2 stops enroute. LAX probably has close to 20 nonstop options between AA/VX/WN, but most importantly, is almost always $50-100 per person cheaper. For two people, even factoring in the long drive from LAX and the gas to get to and from, the convenience isn’t worth the extra $100+.

  9. IAD gets a bad rap. Of course it’s 30 miles from downtown DC. That’s never been disputed. But Northern Virginia has a massive population outside the Beltway that travel. The Pre Check line here is shorter than many others. And, if you don’t fly United, you get the much newer B terminal. You’re really trying to tell me you think MSY is nicer than IAD?

    1. Heh, I was wondering if anyone would bring up MSY. Our D concourse is nice, but the rest of it really sucks. They’re supposed to have a whole new terminal done in 2018 that will be much better but I’m not holding my breath.

  10. I will rate the worst airports in the country in terms of bathrooms. These are airports that gave no regard for passenger throughput and as such have an insufficient number of urinals / stalls. They also lose points for failing to install privacy dividers.

    1. MCI
    2. MDW
    3. MCO
    4. SJC
    5. LGA

    1. The problem with MCI is that the bathrooms are outside the secure area in many cases. You get screened and enter the waiting room only to find that you have to leave security to “do your bidness” then go back through security to wait for your plane. Maddening.

  11. PHL: A few drops of rain and the airport comes to a screeching halt. Throw in surly Philadelphians (I lived there), crackly loudspeaker systems, unpredictable length of security lines (worse that just long queues) and poor baggage collection areas. Smelly taxis add to the decor.

    LGA: The terminals are dire, I can live with that, don’t go to the airport for the “experience”. The good location from Manhattan makes it fast to get to the airport and to the plane. This however is totally negated by the 1.5 hour wait on the taxiways in queue for take off. If you are departing terminal D and planes take off runway 13, good luck getting out anytime soon. The plane has to makes its way around the terminals, cross runway 22 (used for landing) and then wait on runway 13 for landing aircraft. In the meantime, the plane waits for others pushing back or crossing ahead. The key problem isn’t the terminals, it’s lack of space on the tarmac for planes and the crossing runways.

  12. I’m baffled as to why IAD is on this list….it’s a beautiful airport and I’ve never had issues. In fact I’ve flown through connecting with United and coming from LHR my wait at customs was maybe 3 minutes. I can’t understand why it’s so fashionable in DC to hate on IAD. Maybe those in the city think it’s far…but take DC out of the equation and Northern Virginia is a serious population center, everyone loves to talk about how wonderful DCA is, but someone from Reston or Tysons would laugh in your face if you told them.they should fight inbound traffic to fly from DCA. Not to mention if we’re talking international travel IAD clearly wins

    1. It’s because the “high yield” government and diplomatic traffic flies from DC proper, and when compared to DCA there really is no comparison. DCA is almost laughably convenient with a Metro station that drops you off literally inside the terminal building, a 7-minute drive to L’Enfant and a short hop away from the Pentagon.

      IAD also involves more walking than it should, especially for an airport that requires riding a train to your departure terminal. Security lines are VERY long, food options are paltry at best, and heaven help you if you have to make a connection on UA through IAD. It’s just a hassle. Not to mention that once you get inside IAD the whole place feels like a fallout shelter.

      1. Just because UA is horrible doesn’t make IAD horrible. B terminal is modern, bright and clean with reasonable for choices. Plenty of high-yield govt contractors using IAD. 

        Sent from Outlook

    2. Have you ever come back from overseas via IAD? Worst experience ever. Way understaffed at Immigration and Customs. It took 3 times as long as any other airport I’ve been thru from overseas, including LAX, SFO, ORD and DEN. I’ll never book thru IAD again.

    3. I love IAD but that’s because it’s so darn convenient for me. I live in Reston Town Center, so it’s like a $12 Uber ride or a free ride from a friend to get there. I don’t mind any of the walking, I’ve never waited in line at security for more than 20 minutes. Never had an issue with food choices. I’ve just never had a bad experience there.

      My last flight I left my house at 7 a.m., got at the airport by 7:10, was through security and at my gate by 7:35, the flight left shortly after 8 a.m. and I was in Detroit eating breakfast at a restaurant with my in-laws by 10 a.m. It was blissful.

  13. St. Louis would have to be on the list.. The airport that time forgot.

    Terminal E in Atlanta is a pit..

    1. Don’t you mean D? E is much newer than A-D (it was opened in the mid 90s as the “new” international terminal prior to the 96 olympics) and is still IMO among the nicer parts of the airport, certainly when compared to D, otherwise known as the concourse that ATL decided not to upgrade in any meaningful fashion because it was home to all of the other non-DL, non-FL carriers.

      1. D has been upgraded! It’s gone through a major renovation. Now that Delta uses it, it even has a SkyClub.

  14. To be truthful I think SEA is starting to get as bad as LAX or perhaps ORD just because they can’t keep up with DL expanding. And that’s just what pax see what I see as a ramp agent is crazy the south end of the airport has two belts both are usually full 18 hours a day from about 0200-1800. We keep telling port move AWA to the American belt and combine the operation to give the Int belt next door a bit more space but they wont do it because DL is paying them so much to get as much space as possible.

  15. MCI, MCI, MCI! The people are pretty nice but that airport is hopeless. The original intent was laudable but current security regulations make it laughable. Use the bathroom before you go through security; chances are there won’t be a bathroom inside the secure area. Seemingly all food and drink is outside of security as well. Again, the airport and airline employees with whom I’ve dealt have been fairly decent; if you have the great misfortune to have to connect here the process will be maddening.

  16. If you judge the airport solely on how difficult it is to navigate to get from either one gate to another or how hard it is to get in and out of the airport, I’d replace Miami on your list with Ft. Lauderdale.

    I had occasion to travel through both on different trips earlier this month. And as much as I hated Miami and their lack of signage, I’d say Ft. Lauderdale totally beat them. Unless you’ve become familiar with that airport, you have no way of knowing how to go from one concourse to another without asking multiple people along your trek.

    As I’ve been there a few times over the last few years, it seems like parts of that smaller airport are in constant construction yet they have never bothered to put up either permanent or temporary signs to help passengers figure out how to get from a domestic concourse to the international concourse and vice/versa. I observed that Spanish speaking passengers have an even more difficult time because even though we were in Florida, it was difficult to find airport employees or TSA agents that could speak Spanish. I can barely speak a handful of Spanish myself but my wife and I ended up having to help interpret for other passengers.

    And don’t even get me started on the TSA agents that work there. I don’t know what their deal was last week but they were not working together. I think there must have been some sort of argument going on between a handful of them because they were not only being rude to passengers but they were being rude to each other and going out of their way make things harder of each other (which of course made things difficult on passengers that were caught in the middle).

    I hate that airport so much, that even if my final destination were Ft. Lauderdale, in the future, I’d fly into Orlando and rent a car. (I know Miami is closer but I don’t like that one either).

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