Applied Behavior Science for Health and Happiness
Best and Worst US Airports According to
Best and Worst US Airports According to

Best and Worst US Airports According to

Best and WorstUS AirportsI fly a lot. And I have opinions about airports. There are a few things that make a good airport:

  • Convenient navigation (e.g. not having to go through security multiple times to change planes if you have a connection, not having to take one or more trams to find your gate)
  • Well-organized security lines; it’s ok if the lines are long sometimes if there is a good system to move people through
  • Good concessions, especially ones that sell alcohol for the inevitable delay
  • Clean bathrooms, enough of them for the number of passengers generally flying through the airport
  • Ease of accessing ground transportation, including rental cars
  • Reasonably updated decor–it doesn’t have to look like a W Hotel, but it also shouldn’t have carpets older than I am
  • Amenities like plentiful outlets for charging devices and comfortable seats

When I’m booking a trip, I try very hard to avoid the airports I hate the most. Unfortunately, at least two of them are convenient to company locations and I find myself there quite a lot for work.

Here are the three US airports I think are the worst:

Newark International Airport (EWR): Narrowing this list down to three was hard, but there was no way Newark was escaping the #1 spot. Newark violates almost every rule of a good airport. It’s hard to navigate, even in its best terminal (C, the United terminal). Unfortunately for me, I prefer to fly Jet Blue, whose Newark terminal is absolutely garbage. Among its many sins, it has one filthy ladies’ room and only one restaurant that serves alcohol. The security lines were designed by . . . well, I don’t know who they were designed by but it was not someone good at designing security lines. Oh, and maybe someday when I have time to rant for 40 minutes we can talk about the AirTrain that takes people from terminal to terminal. I hate that AirTrain so much that I actually walk between buildings if I can.

Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)The round terminal building with the gates for Virgin Atlantic and Jet Blue flights is the stuff of nightmares. If you’re going back to the east coast, as I always am when I’m there, it’s early in the morning, and the shape of the room means every conversation echoes off the walls into your tired head. There’s a paucity of concessions given the number of gates, and the security lines are even worse designed than Newark. The tables in front of the scanners are so short that there’s no way for people to prepare, and nobody makes it through efficiently.

Orlando International Airport (MCO): Orlando is a dark horse in this race to the bottom of America’s airports. It’s fairly modern, has lots of good concessions (including a Carvel), and is connected to a very nice hotel which is convenient for work meetings. So why do I hate it so much? Well, it might have something to do with the legions of kids who are either shrieking in joy that they are going to Disney World, wailing in disappointment that they are leaving Disney World, or practicing an over-energized dance routine because their team is in some sort of sequin-coated competition. Oh, and there is a tram. I hate trams.

And my top three airports in America . . .

Inside the McNamara terminal at DTW.
Inside the McNamara terminal at DTW.

Detroit Metro Airport (DTW): When I moved to Michigan in 2001, they were finishing up the new Detroit Airport. I remember flying out of it within its first month and just being blown away by the beautiful new terminal. Ten plus years later, and I am still impressed. Detroit is, in my opinion, the easiest airport in the US to navigate. The McNamara Terminals (home to Delta, which has a hub here) are linear and logically laid out. There is a tram, but it’s for convenience, not necessity. There are alcohol-serving establishments every few gates. Now that the North Terminal has also been renovated, Detroit has probably the best American airport I’ve ever been in. This is my top choice for a layover if one is needed.

Philadelphia International Airport (PHL): Philadelphia would never have made this list five years ago, but they have been renovating and I appreciate the results. The airport is steadily improving with each new phase of renovation. Philadelphia also has a nice selection of restaurants and shops, and you can walk from terminal to terminal without taking a tram or leaving security (although you do have to take a bus to Terminal F, which is for small regional planes). I used to hate Philadelphia’s airport, but have recently found it a pleasant place to fly out of.

TSA "hologram" in many airports.
TSA “hologram” in many airports. TSA, this is not a hologram.

Boston Logan International Airport (BOS): This last one is controversial, I know. People HATE Logan. It’s my home airport and the one I fly out of most often, so maybe I’ve figured out how to navigate it, but I prefer it to most of the other airports I’ve visited. The terminals at Logan are not connected behind security, and each one has a different feel. Terminal A is all about the Harpoon Tap Room, Terminal B is shiny and new with places I’ve yet to explore, Terminal C is home to two Boston Beer Works (Workses?), and Terminal E . . . well, if you’re in the international Terminal E you’re probably going somewhere exciting and don’t mind the crap restaurants as much. Maybe it’s because as a local I am aware of it, but I also think Logan is unusually well-connected to public transportation, meaning there are very affordable ground transport options available.