Improved Airport Experience Drives Traveller Spending


The airport industry has undergone a major cultural shift, as traveller experience has become the focal point of its strategy to improve overall satisfaction, according to the J.D. Power 2015 North America Airport Satisfaction Study.

Now in its 10th year, the study measures overall traveller satisfaction with large- and medium-sized North American airports by examining six factors (in order of importance): terminal facilities; airport accessibility; security check; baggage claim; check-in/baggage check; and terminal shopping. In this year’s study, overall traveller satisfaction with the airport experience averages 725 (on a 1,000-point scale), an improvement from 690 in 2010, the last time the study was conducted. Overall satisfaction with large airports is 719, up from 665 in 2010, and satisfaction with medium airports is 752, a 69-point increase.

“Most airports have really made a tremendous shift over the past six years and are now focused on managing the end-to-end experience for their travellers,” said Rick Garlick, global travel and hospitality practice lead at J.D. Power. “It’s no longer just about getting travellers from Point A to Point B as efficiently as possible; it’s about making the airport experience enjoyable.”

A key element of the cultural shift is that airports are placing an emphasis on terminal facilities, which have the greatest impact on overall airport satisfaction. Terminal facilities include everything from restaurants and retail operations to restrooms and seating near gates.

“Travellers now are substantially more satisfied with retail experiences in their airport,” said Jeff Conklin, vice-president of the utility and infrastructure practice at J.D. Power. “Airports that have responded to this demand by offering a variety of food, beverage, merchandise, and other attractive services and amenities are realizing significant gains in overall customer satisfaction.”

Following are some of the key findings in the 2015 study:

  • Check-in and Security Line Make or Break Airport Satisfaction. Satisfaction with the check-in/baggage check experience among travellers that spend no more than five minutes checking in at the airport, including checking their bags, is 797. When the check-in process takes between six and 10 minutes, satisfaction is 773. When the security process takes between 11 and 20 minutes, satisfaction with the security check process is 690, significantly lower than the 779 among travellers who move through security within 10 minutes.
  • Younger Travellers More Satisfied; Spend More Money. Among the generational groups, satisfaction is highest among Millennials and travellers in Gen X, who spend substantially more on food, beverages, merchandise and services in the airport than Boomers and Pre-Boomers. Satisfaction is highest among Millennials (750), followed by Gen X (725), Boomers (709) and Pre-Boomers (713). Additionally, Millennials and those in Gen X, who each spend fewer than 50 minutes in the terminal, spend an average of $25 and $18, respectively, in the airport, compared with Boomers and Pre-Boomers, who spend an average of just $10 and $7, with the latter two groups spending an hour or more in the terminal.
  • Gate Cleanliness Is Critical. A clean gate area boosts satisfaction with terminal facilities to 745, while a messy gate causes satisfaction with terminal facilities to plummet to 555. Making sure travellers can hear flight announcements and having ample seating and outlets for charging electronics around a gate also lift satisfaction with terminal facilities by more than 130 index points.
  • Combining Business with Pleasure. Overall satisfaction is highest among travellers who combine both business and leisure/personal travel (745). Satisfaction among business travellers is 724 and is 722 among leisure/personal travellers. Business travellers spend more than double what that of leisure travellers spend when in the terminal 30 or fewer minutes ($41.79 vs. $20.41, respectively) or 120 minutes or longer ($50.89 vs. $17.98).
  • Dissatisfied Customers Are Very Vocal. Dissatisfied airport travellers are the most likely to share their experience with others. Those who rate overall satisfaction 1 (on a 10-point scale) make an average of 13 negative comments about their experience. Conversely, those who rate their experience a 10 make an average of five positive mentions.
  • International Travel. The study also measures the experience of North American travellers arriving at and departing from international airports. Collectively, airports in Asia Pacific – which includes Australia, India, the Pacific islands and Russia – have the highest overall satisfaction (761), followed by Europe (740), North America (725), Mexico/Caribbean, including Central America (717), South America (702) and Africa/Middle East (696).

North American airports trail Asia Pacific airports in all factors, and European airports trail in all factors except check-in/baggage check. The two areas in which Asia Pacific and European airports outpace North American airports the most are in terminal shopping (food and retail) and baggage claim.