Best and Worst Airports in America

Estimated read time: 5 minutes

If you land in an airport you've never been to before, you don't know what you're going to get. It can quickly become one of your favorites, or it can make your list of places you never want to go to again. A bad airport experience can turn a great traveling experience into one you'll be talking about for years — and not in a good way.

If you'd rather not take the gamble, let's take some of the guesswork so all you have to do is prepare for the journey ahead.

While an airport might not top your list of places you want to be, there are some that make the experience enjoyable.

Best: Portland International Airport (PDX)

Portland has a cool reputation these days. Whether you're looking for a foodie experience, you love how active the city is, or microbreweries are your idea of a good time, you'll find a lot that you love about the city translates to its airport, as well.

The airport has 32 great eateries, easy access, and even bike path access for the locals. You'll get free Wi-Fi as you wait for your flight. The airport also showcases Portland's crafty side, with handmade items available if you're looking to bring something home that has local appeal.

It scores big when it comes to on-time flight arrivals, but you almost wouldn't mind if the flights were late, thanks to a small, free on-site movie theater.

Worst: Chicago O'Hare International Airport (ORD)

Part of the reason this airport ranks so low is out of anyone's control. The weather isn't great in Chicago, especially in the winter when storms can cancel your flights at a moment's notice. That might not be so terrible if the airport wasn't such a pain to reach in the first place.

The traffic is awful, and you feel as if you've spent all day on the road by the time you get there.

It's such a crowded mess inside the airport, you'd almost rather be outside in the blustery winter air. With 78 million passengers going through this airport annually, maybe there's no way to avoid feeling like you're a sheep being herded around.

Read your boarding pass carefully, so you can make sure you're waiting in the right line. You don't want to have to backtrack at this airport.

Best: Tampa International Airport (TPA)

If you're looking for a good food selection, you should find it here, with 40 restaurants housed at TPA. With an on-time arrival percentage for over four-fifths of its flights, this airport manages to keep things pretty well on track.

Part of Tampa's charm is how accessible it is. Tampa is a metropolitan area that still feels driveable, and getting to this airport isn't much trouble at all. It's in close proximity to the downtown area, so you aren't stuck in a car for long if you want to take in the sights before heading to the airport.

Worst: LaGuardia Airport (LGA)

This New York airport is known for its delays. It can take a lot of time to get there, and by the time you do, you'll be feeling frustrated. You'll start to understand why New Yorkers have a reputation for their attitude — you might too if you had to deal with as many flight delays as the travelers at LaGuardia do. It has a reputation as being the worst airport for flight cancellations.

As if the flight delays weren't enough to anger its passengers, LGA adds another layer of insult by charging high parking fees.

Best: Indianapolis International Airport (IND)

Indianapolis International Airport is no slouch when it comes to keeping on schedule. More than 80 percent of its flights arrive on time. This airport, with 4.7 million annual visitors, doesn't have the passenger volume that O'Hare has, which is one of the reasons it doesn't feel overcrowded.

It has a good handle on the security measures it needs to take but does so in a logical and streamlined fashion, which makes everything less frustrating.

Worst: John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)

We're not trying to pick on New York airports here, but JFK is well known for its many faults.

Like many of the airports in metropolitan areas, it can be hard to even get to JFK, especially with the seemingly never-ending construction projects in the surrounding areas, and public transportation to the airport can be expensive.

If the flights routinely left on time, you might forgive how difficult it is to get to this airport, but they don't. It is well known for experiencing delays and cancellations.

Best: Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)

Sometimes you think you've scored a good deal on your airline flight only to arrive at the airport and realize you're going to be hit with expensive parking fees, but at Sky Harbor you won't have that issue.

You won't spend half your day in security checkpoints. When it comes to flight cancellations and delays, it does well, staying on course the majority of the time.

If you hate to feel like you've taken a full-fledged trip by the time you've managed to get your way through the traffic to the airport, you'll appreciate the ease of reaching PHX. It's accessible by bus or by car.

Worst: Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)

When you're traveling to EWR, you should expect two things:

  • Flight delays.
  • Fighting terrible traffic just to step foot in the airport.

That might not be the worst part about your time at this New Jersey airport either. Although it gets less than half of the travelers O'Hare does, it feels so crowded. It can be a bit much for travelers who like a little breathing room.

There are lines everywhere, from security to check-in to the lounges, and while some airports manage to look clean and even appealing, EWR is like Cinderella's ugly step-sisters. It's unattractive and just feels dirty.

Airports Don't Have To Be Dreary

While an airport might not top your list of places you want to be, there are some that make the experience enjoyable.

You'll have to search long and hard to find these hidden gems, but they exist in every size, from the big, crowded ones to the small, local ones that are sometimes overlooked.