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O'Hare ranked last among biggest US airports as passenger satisfaction starts to dip from record highs earlier in the pandemic

Lauren Zumbach, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Business News

Passenger satisfaction at America’s airports is starting to dip from all-time highs as airports get busier, with O’Hare International Airport ranking last and Midway Airport in the bottom half, according to a study released Wednesday.

Overall, airports still scored higher than ever on the 2021 North American Airport Satisfaction Survey by J.D. Power, a marketing information services firm. But the highest ratings came during the first half of the study, when fewer people were flying. Since January, satisfaction scores “steadily declined,” J.D. Power said in a news release.

With more people flying, travelers can’t count on breezing through near-empty airports. Meanwhile, some restaurants and shops, struggling to hire back workers, remain temporarily closed, leaving travelers without the range of services they expect, said Michael Taylor, travel intelligence lead at J.D. Power.

“During the height of the pandemic people were just happy to get out of the house … and now their expectations are changing,” he said.

O’Hare and Midway both scored higher than last year’s record satisfaction ratings even as O’Hare went from second-last to last among the biggest North American airports, and Midway remained in the bottom half of airports with between 10 million and 32.9 million passengers per year.

Both airports are getting busier. Nearly 6 million people flew through O’Hare in July, up from 2.1 million in July 2020, though still below roughly 8.2 million in July 2019. Midway saw 1.8 million travelers in July this year, up from nearly 724,500 last July and approaching the 1.9 million passengers it saw in July 2019.

According to the airports’ websites, most dining options have reopened. Among those still temporarily closed are five of O’Hare’s 19 Starbucks locations, Eli’s Cheesecake in Terminal 1 and Publican Tavern in Terminal 3, and at Midway, Pegasus on the Fly and True Burger Co.

O’Hare’s low ranking relative to other major airports is primarily due to passenger ratings of its terminal facilities, Taylor said.

 

The $8.5 billion rehabilitation and expansion, slated to be the largest and most expensive terminal revamp in the airport’s history, should help once any disruption during construction ends, he said.

Plans include a new global terminal and three new concourses, along with an expansion of Terminal 5 expected to be fully in use by 2023.

The city’s Aviation Department could not immediately be reached for comment.

The survey questions travelers, in order of importance, on terminal facilities; airport arrival/departure; baggage claim; security check; check-in/baggage check; and food, beverage and retail.

Miami International Airport ranked highest in passenger satisfaction among the biggest airports, and Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport ranked highest among large airports, which was Midway’s category.

The study, which has been running for 16 years, is based on responses from 13,225 U.S. or Canadian travelers between August 2020 and July 2021.

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