It seems like anyone who’s anyone (or thinks they are) has an annual “best airports in the world” list. Skytrax. Travel & Leisure. CN Traveler. A few even have “worst airports in the world.” Forbes. Business Insider.
You know what very few places ever report on, though? The worst airports in the United States. And that’s a shame because even though it’s fun to know which airports around the world really stink, the bottom line is that 40% (+/-) of Americans have never left the country. So telling them that, say, Lisbon Portela Airport in Portugal was voted in 2020 as the worst airport in the world by AirHelp really doesn’t give them any sort of meaning because they’ve never been to Portugal, never mind that particular airport. There’s much more of a chance that they’ve been to… Well, I’m getting ahead of myself..
Frommer’s travel guide books have been around since 1957 – so 65 years.
In 1957, Arthur Frommer was a corporal in the U.S. Army. He wrote a travel guide for American GIs in Europe, and then produced a civilian version called Europe on $5 a Day. The book ranked popular landmarks and sights in order of importance and included suggestions on how to travel around Europe on a budget. It was said to be the first travel guide that showed Americans they could afford to travel in Europe.
Upon his return to the U.S., Frommer became a lawyer. However he continued to write and self-publish his guidebooks, with expansion to destinations such as New York, Mexico, Hawaii, Japan, and the Caribbean. The collection continued to grow when Arthur’s daughter, Pauline, began writing her own additions to the series.
From 1977 onward, the Frommers series was sold several times over. Google purchased the rights to the series in 2012, but when they announced in 2013 that they would no longer publish the books, the Frommers bought the rights of the series back.
Arthur Frommer is still alive, by the way. Born in July, 1929, he’ll be looking at his 93rd birthday in a couple of months.
Here’s the list of what Frommer’s says are the 10 worst airports in the U.S.:
10. Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) – Virginia
Problems: inconvenient location, confusing layout
Frommer’s biggest beef with IAD is the layout. It’s a beautiful building, designed by none other than Eero Saarinen, the same guy who designed the iconic TWA Building at JFK. But what’s there is style is not there in convenience. It’s difficult to get from one concourse to another, and the custom built “mobile lounges” they initially built to transport travelers were slow (they’re still in use, but on a much smaller scale than originally intended. One of the mobile lounges was in an accident last month).
This video provides the vision and reasoning for IAD before it was built. It’s interesting and VERY retro, but certainly not what came to be of IAD in terms of convenience.
Another problem: the airport is 30 miles away from downtown Washington D.C. and the airport still isn’t a stop on the local train (although that might come to fruition soon, via expansion of the Silver Line.
9. Yeager Airport (CRW), Charleston, West Virginia
Problems: scary location
CRW sits on a hill that has a 300-foot drop off on all sides. If a plane goes too far, it’s going to literally fall off the edge. It’s bad enough that CRW is on the FAA’s list of Special Pilot In Command Qualification list.
There are other airports that are in scary locations – Midway Airport, in Chicago, has short runways. Telluride Regional Airport is known for its strong vertical turbulence during the winter months. Pilots flying into San Diego Airport have to be aware of strong tailwinds blowing in from the west.
That drop, though…
8. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), Texas
Problems: flight delays and cancellations, long lines due to understaffing
This list was updated since COVID, and although just about EVERY airport has had its share of delays and cancellations, it seems that DFW is getting more complaints than most (as per Skytrax)
But it’s not even just anecdotally – DFW is almost always in the “top ten” for delays an cancellations, according to reports by the DOT. In fact, between July 2019 and July 2021, more than 20% of flights at DFW were late or just didn’t happen.
7. Denver International Airport (DEN), Colorado
Problems: bumpy takeoffs and landings, long TSA lines, parking issues, construction
Just like CRW (#9 above), DEN is a scary airport for flying because it’s frequently a victim of “mountain wave” turbulence. From the FAA:
When the wind speed is above about 25 knots and flowing perpendicular to the ridge lines, the airflow can form waves, much like water flowing over rocks in a stream bed. The waves form downwind from the ridge line and will be composed of very strong up and down drafts.
Read: it can feel like a roller coaster.
DEN has been another victim of not having enough staff members, which has been leading to longer lines and difficulty finding parking (because they don’t have enough shuttle drivers so 2 parking lots are closed).
DEN has had its share of excitement though:
6. Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (CLE), Ohio
Problems: outdated facilities, limited accessibility
First, I will give CLE credit where credit is due. It was the first airport with an air traffic control tower. It was also the first to have a two-terminal design that separated arrivals from departures. AND it was the first airport to be directly connected with a mass transit system.
But being “first” for some many things points out CLE’s biggest problem: it’s just OLD. It’s not made for 21st century and is in desperate need of renovations to make it more modern.
5. Philadelphia International Airport (PHL), Pennsylvania
Problems: outdated terminals, traffic
PHL’s problem on the inside is that, like CLE, it’s old and really needs an update. Fortunately, they’re due to get some money from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and that money is earmarked to refresh the airport.
PHL’s problem is that the major roads outside the airport are in the midst of some major construction. That in itself causes delays. On top of that, police understaffing means cops get pulled from traffic duty, which makes everything even more difficult.
4. O’Hare International Airport (ORD), Illinois
Problems: overcrowding, delays/cancellations
ORD is famous for its delays. It’s not the airport’s fault, or even the airlines’. It’s just that Chicago gets some really crappy weather all year round. So swaths of huge wind gusts, or major snowstorms can make delayed and cancelled flights pile up.
ORD also just needed to be bigger. Fortunately, they just finished a 16-year, $6 BILLION redevelopment plan, which should help make the airport more pleasant.
3. Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), California
Problems: bad customer experience, traffic congestion, confusing layout
When I saw that one of the problems for LAX was traffic congestion, my first thought was, “Well DUH, it’s southern California!” But their beef was more about lack of decent public transportation to get people between the airport and Downtown L.A.
LAX is huge, with NINE terminals. Joe and I have experienced trying to get from one to another and nope, it’s not fun.
Fortunately, they’re doing construction at LAX that may eventually help things, in the end.
Now if only they could reopen the restaurant on top of the Theme Building that had been designed by Disney Imagineers…
2. LaGuardia Airport (LGA), New York City
Problems: delays and cancellations, construction, poor ground transportation
If there was ever an airport that needed a facelift, it was LGA. Opened in 1939, by the 1960s it was already too small for the needs of a large metropolitan area where John Q. Public was flying more and more.
Fortunately, the airport has been in the midst of that much-needed rehab since 2016. Construction-related traffic woes had gotten so bad in 2019 that people were actually leaving their cars and walking to the airport. That’s because there’s STILL no ground transportation at LGA to make traveling there easier. There were some preliminary plans to build a monorail between the airport and local trains, but that was soon scrapped after former Govornor Cuomo left his post.
LGA is one of three large airports in the area, which makes for ongoing clogged airspace over NYC. That makes for delays and cancellations up the ying yang. And unfortunately, no amount of construction is going to fix that.
And THE WORST airport in the United States, according to Frommer’s, is…1. Newark-Liberty International Airport (EWR), New Jersey
Problems: delays/cancellations, poor amenities, inconvenient location
Who’s surprised? Beuller? Beuller?
EWR has pretty consistently ranked towards the bottom of the barrel. One of the 3 airports in the NYC area, it has the worst on-time rate of any airport (nearly 25% of all flights were delayed or canceled).
EWR also suffers from overcrowding, a cleanliness issue, and really crappy food options.
Oh, and travel to and from? Total pain. You have to take a cab or ride sharing, or take 2 trains that are operated by two different systems (too confusing for tourists).
Some “Best/Worst” reports are based on reports from the DOT, or surveys of thousands of people. Frommers’ list is a little less scientific and official.
…we considered several factors, including flight delays, security wait times, customer satisfaction surveys, and the reviews of experts.
That’s admittedly not super specific. However that’s also how their books have been written for the past 65 years, so I’m not going to argue with them.
What do you think is the worst airport in the country?
Feature Photo (cropped): Aqua Mechanical / license