You may not want to hear what airline travelers think about being packed like sardines and fed with mini-pretzels when they fly economy, but they’re happier these days to talk about the time they spend in the airport.
Especially at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, rated as one of the nation’s best in a new survey of air travelers.
RDU tied with Indianapolis for third place among 34 medium-size airports in a North American airport satisfaction report released Wednesday by J.D. Power. More than 21,000 travelers were surveyed across the country this fall about check-in and security checkpoints, restaurants and shopping, terminal facilities and other aspects of the airport sojourn.
“It’s a good experience (at RDU), and they do have a great terminal,” Jeff Conklin, a J.D. Power vice president, said in an interview. “It’s got a modern, spacious feel, which travelers respond to positively.”
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He said RDU scores were “good, but not as great as everything else” in one area: shopping, drinking and dining in the airport terminals.
“Check-in rated very strongly, and the security process was very smooth and efficient for travelers at RDU. If there’s one category that might offer opportunities for improvement, it’s the in-terminal experience of food, beverages, merchandise and other services,” Conklin said. He declined to provide detailed findings.
Michael Landguth, the RDU airport president and CEO, was glad to get the news.
“It’s always nice to hear from your customers about how they’re rating your facility and their customer experience,” Landguth said. “We want to continue to focus on where we can improve that experience.”
Gate locations in Terminal 2 will be adjusted next year to accommodate the recent merger of American Airlines and U.S. Airways, and some retail outlet locations might change at the same time, Landguth said. More changes are expected in 2017, he said, when RDU plans a “refresh program” for its food and beverage concessions.
J.D. Power, which studies consumer attitudes about goods and services, found that airports are improving their efforts to make travelers happy. The group’s last airport satisfaction survey in 2010 produced an average score of 690, on a scale of 1,000 points. The ratings improved this year to an average 725.
Getting passengers to the gate quickly is key to a good rating, J.D. Power said in a news release. Travelers gave an average score of 779 where they moved through the security checkpoint in 10 minutes or less, and 690 where the checkpoint took 11 to 20 minutes.
RDU rated a 789 – closely trailing the top-rated large airport, Portland (791), and the two top medium airports, Dallas Love Field and Southwest Florida (both 792). Medium airports have between 1.9 million and 7 million passenger boardings each year.
The new airport scores might provide a boost for local efforts to bring more trans-Atlantic flights to RDU.
“RDU is the front door for our entire region, in a way that no other public facility is,” said Joe Milazzo II, who directs the Regional Transportation Alliance, a business group that lobbies for transportation improvements. “To have that sort of recognition at the national level speaks well to what we’re trying to accomplish for our market.”
Airport traveler satisfaction rankings
Best large airports
Average rating: 719 on a 1,000-point scale
1. Portland, 791
2. Tampa, 776
3. McCarran, Las Vegas, 759
4. Orlando, 756
5. Salt Lake City, 748
Charlotte-Douglas tied for 11th out of 32 large airports, with a score of 734.
Worst: Los Angeles (670), LaGuardia (655) and Newark Liberty (646)
Best medium airports
Average rating: 752
1. Dallas Love Field, 792
1. Southwest Florida, Fort Myers, 792
3. Indianapolis, 789
3. Raleigh-Durham, 789
5. Jacksonville, Fla., 787
Worst: Kahului, Hawaii (705), William P. Hobby, Houston (700) and Cleveland Hopkins (698).
Source: J.D. Power 2015 North American Airport Satisfaction Study