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Passenger survey says RDU airport got better as it gets bigger. (Lines? What lines?)

Despite passenger growth that has caused long lines at security checkpoints, Raleigh-Durham International Airport has improved its customer satisfaction rating among the nation’s airports, according to the consumer analytics firm J.D. Power.

Last year, RDU ranked in the middle of the pack among medium-sized airports in J.D. Power’s annual passenger survey. This year, J.D. Power bumped RDU into the “large” airport category, and the airport’s ranking went up, to fifth out of 27.

It wasn’t just the relative ranking that improved; RDU scored better in all categories, which include airport accessibility, baggage claim and food, beverage and retail, according to Michael Taylor, author of the J.D. Power report.

“There was nothing it didn’t do well in,” Taylor said in an interview. “It’s a very nicely performing airport with good management and interesting things going on in the airport.”

RDU’s rating even rose slightly for “security check,” an area where the airport has had its most visible problems in recent months. The growth in passengers catching early morning flights has caused a crush at the security checkpoint in Terminal 2, resulting in long lines that snake around the ticketing hall.

Taylor said passengers gave RDU its highest marks for food, beverage and retail. In particular, he said, they appreciate unique, local stores and restaurants, such as Root & Branch, ACC American Cafe and Carolina Ale House — places “you’re not going to find in New Jersey.”

“If you went to an airport 15 to 20 years ago, they all had the same concepts,” he said. “You weren’t sure if you were in New Jersey or Raleigh-Durham.”

J.D. Power’s ratings are based on 32,276 interviews with U.S. and Canadian residents who had traveled through one of the nation’s 64 largest airports in the previous three months. The interviews were conducted from last October through this month, Taylor said.

The firm divides airports into three categories: medium, large and mega, which includes the country’s 19 largest airports by passenger volume. RDU’s growth, to 12.8 million travelers last year, qualified it as a large airport for the first time. The airport expects to serve more than 14 million passengers this year.

Portland International Airport in Oregon topped the J.D. Power ratings for large airports, with 833 out of a possible 1,000 points. It was followed by Dallas Love Field, Tampa International Airport and John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California. RDU came in fifth with 804 points.

“We are thrilled that passengers consider RDU one of the top five best large airports in North America,” Michael Landguth, RDU’s president and CEO, said in a statement. “We strive to provide a world-class airport experience, and we are continuing to upgrade our facilities and amenities to make traveling through RDU even easier and more welcoming.”

Finishing last in the large airport category, with 662 points, was LaGuardia Airport in New York.

Generally, larger airports score worse in customer satisfaction, according to J.D. Power. If RDU were still ranked among medium-sized airports, its score would have been about average again this year.

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Richard Stradling covers transportation for The News & Observer. Planes, trains and automobiles, plus ferries, bicycles, scooters and just plain walking. Also, #census2020. He’s been a reporter or editor for 32 years, including the last 20 at The N&O. 919-829-4739, rstradling@newsobserver.com.
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