Gary Stoller
USA Today

Three airports in the Midwest scored the highest of all North American airports in customer satisfaction, a J.D. Power and Associates survey released Thursday says.

Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County was named the best large airport, Kansas City International the best midsize airport and Indianapolis International the best small airport.

The survey was based on responses from more than 12,000 passengers who flew on a round-trip flight last year. Airports were judged on six factors: accessibility, the check-in and baggage-check process, baggage claim, terminal facilities, security check, and food and retail services. It's J.D. Power's first airport survey in two years.

"Airports that rated the highest are raising the performance bar," says Stuart Greif, a J.D. Power vice president. "They exceeded the scores of the highest-rated airports in our last study two years ago."

Indianapolis airport, a new facility that opened in November 2008, received the highest satisfaction score this year — 777 on a 1,000-point scale. Kansas City scored 742 and Detroit, 705.

The combined satisfaction score for all North American airports averaged 690 — an improvement from 675 in 2008. The score, though, was considerably lower than customer satisfaction scores last year for hotels and rental cars in two other J.D. Power studies. Hotels averaged 756 and rental cars, 733.

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This year's airport survey found that the areas that most affected passenger satisfaction are speed of baggage delivery, ease of check-in and bag check, comfort in terminals and amount of time to pass through security.

"For many passengers, basic needs such as seating comfort and ease of moving through the airport are not consistently being met," Greif says.

Passengers spend more at shops in airports with high satisfaction scores, the study also found.

Retail spending averages $14.12 for passengers disappointed with their airport experience and $20.55 for passengers delighted with their airport experience, the study says.

Passengers generally give higher satisfaction scores to smaller airports, which usually have less congestion than larger ones, Greif says.

Indianapolis airport handled 7.5 million passengers last year, compared with 31.4 million at Detroit's big airport.

Some other big airports that posted high satisfaction scores were Denver, Minneapolis and Orlando. Scoring lowest among big airports were Newark, Los Angeles and Miami.

Much of the credit for Detroit's top ranking among big airports goes to airlines and Travelers Aid volunteers, says Lester Robinson, CEO of the Wayne County Airport Authority, which operates the airport.

The airlines "committed themselves" to improve on-time flight performance and luggage handling, and the volunteers "work so hard on the front line every day to help make the travel experience in Detroit as pleasant as possible," he says.


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