Men's Journal

How to Game Your Airport Experience

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Most “best and worst” airport lists are hardly scientific, relying on user feedback or surveys to point out objective data. This is why most lists are little more than a collection of anecdotes — entertaining, but not exactly something to book your flight by. James Cury, Editorial Director of The Points Guy, set out to change that using numbers from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, J.D. Power, and Google Maps. With this data, Cury and his team created a ranking system that is “not based on subjectivity,” he says, other than how to weight variables, of course.

For his list, timeliness (which includes flight delays and TSA lines) made up 50 percent of the ranking. Access (how easy it is to take public transit to or from the airport, plus how far the airport is from the city) made up 30 percent. And amenities (think free WiFi, number of eateries relative to population density, and number of lounges) made up the final 10 percent. The full list of best and worst airports is up at The Points Guy’s website, but here are the key takeaways for any frequent flier.

Avoid The Big Apple (I.E. All New York Airports)

Newark, La Guardia, and JFK were the three lowest-ranked airports on the list. There is a bright spot, though. Philadelphia came in as seventh best in the country. “If you can fly out of Philadelphia, which is something I wouldn’t have thought of before, it might be worth it,” says Cury.

Weather Matters

“There is definitely a correlation between nice weather and timeliness,” says Cury. Phoenix, Portland, and San Diego, the three best-rated airports, all generally have temperate climates. And summer storms seem to be more of a factor than winter ones. According to research done by Milecards.com, only 75.4 percent of flights arrive on time in June, while 77.4 percent come in on time in January. September is the best month for avoiding weather delays since 83.9 percent of flights touch down punctually. This info is most useful when scouting layover options. In summer, avoid the south and mid-Atlantic, which get hammered with thunderstorms. In winter, avoid winter storm hubs, like Detroit and Denver.

Baggage Is A Crapshoot

One thing that didn’t make it into these rankings is which airports lose the most luggage. “We were hoping to include it, but it’s handled by the airlines,” says Cury. Lost luggage is the fault of the airline, not the airport since baggage handlers are employees of the carriers. So while the Bureau of Transportation Statistics keeps numbers on which airlines lose the most luggage (Expressjet followed by Frontier followed by American), there’s no way to know if going through Atlanta is somehow more treacherous than swinging through O’Hare.

Consider The Misery Factor

You can plan the most careful flight itinerary and still get stuck, which is why amenities matter. Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, in North Carolina, has the fewest dining facilities per capita of any of the 30 busiest airports in the country, so plan to wait in line for your $17 sandwich. Philadelphia, on the other hand, has the most options. Washington-Dulles has the most luxury lounges, so if you’re in route to Europe and have to stop on the East Coast, D.C. is a smarter pick than New York.

Free Wifi is still surprisingly hit or miss, and in September Travel and Leisure reported that free Wifi might become even harder to find. Right now, you can check your email or stream Netflix in 74 percent of airports globally. However, that rate is expected to drop to 54 percent of airports by 2019. If you must have free Wifi, check the individual airport’s homepage before booking. If you’re stuck somewhere and you’re not sure about the Wifi situation, check this handy map, which lists where to find the strongest Wifi in airports and what passwords to use.