Finally, what was arguably the most despicable, embarrassing and yes, deplorable, presidential election in U.S. history is behind us and uncertainty lies ahead with a President-Elect Donald Trump who has no experience governing.
For all the divisiveness we endured in this election cycle, there were important issues raised that have rarely been broached by politicians.
Infrastructure is one of those words that the candidates love to spout out, but few actually take up the issue as a rallying cry. So we at TravelPulse were encouraged when he heard Candidate Trump raise the issue during the Presidential Debates.
“Our airports are like from a Third-World country,” Trump said at a debate in September, echoing the comments made by current Vice President Joe Biden more than two years ago. “You land at LaGuardia, you land at Kennedy, you land at LAX, you land at Newark, and you come in from Dubai and Qatar and you see these incredible – you come in from China – you see these incredible airports and you land ... we’ve become a Third-World country. So the worst of all things has happened. We owe $20 trillion and we are a mess. We haven’t even started.”
Through the garbled soundbites, there is plenty of sense there. Our editors spend a good part of the year traveling the globe and have seen and commented on the glaring disparities between international and domestic airports. Attention to detail is largely missing in U.S. airports, as countries around the world have, well, trumped us on the innovation and design creativity fronts.
U.S. officials see this, comment on it all the time, but could Trump finally be the one to put the money behind the rhetoric and begin to carve out solutions?
According to The Hill, Trump said he would spend more than $500 billion on infrastructure, which he said would be “at least double” the amount Clinton would invest. He has declined to say how he would pay for his massive new government program.
A March 2015 report published by the Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA) noted that an annual investment of $15.1 billion was needed for five consecutive years to deal with the growth and renovation of airport infrastructure, and that current funding from such entities as the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants, the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) and any revenue generated by an airport itself is not nearly sufficient.
This money is largely just to get our airports, as a whole, back up to an acceptable baseline. Innovation is still an afterthought, as we look to retrofit existing structures that are largely incapable of housing the type of technology and enterprise that have made international airports such as Seoul's Incheon the gold standard for next-generation thinking.
So with some much-needed attention brought to this pressing airport need, we at TravelPulse sought to answer the question of whether the state of U.S. airports is truly as bad as President-Elect Trump and many others believe. We polled our readers, staff and aviation experts to find out which airports emerge as leaders and which airports make us wish we took a train.
We asked respondents to rank as many airports as they could among 115 that qualified under our criteria – the facility either processed 700,000 or more passengers in 2015 per Federal Aviation Administration rankings, or are the top-ranking representative of their state.
The methodology including asking respondents to rate airports based on these seven categories:
* Ease Of Access. How is getting to the airport via car or public transportation? Is there sufficient parking, moving walkways, trams and other amenities that makes access easy?
* Terminal Modernity. Is it older or newer? Has the airport embraced newer technologies with Wi-Fi, modern signage and device chargers?
* Terminal Comfort. Is it clean? Easy to navigate? Plenty of seating?
* Amenities. Are there numerous food options, including healthy choices? What about shopping and entertainment options, massages and sleep lounges?
* Business Friendly. Does the airport offer good commuter flights and nonstop? What is its proximity to the nearest city? What about airport lounges and business centers?
* Family Friendly. Are there ample changing stations, kid-friendly food options and clean play areas?
* Airline Volume. Does the airport serve a high number of airlines? If it is dominated by one carrier and being used as a hub, are there enough strong destinations and nonstop flights?
Here are the full top 100 rankings (click to enlarge):
WHAT THIS SURVEY IS, AND WHAT IT ISN'T
In all, more than 270 readers and experts took the time to fill out what we even admitted up front was an exhaustive survey. We asked survey takers to give one of five answers for each airport in the above categories and assigned points to each of their answers that ranged from -4 points for a "behind the times/awful" response to 4 points for "exceptional."
Their willingness to participate showed us just how vital airport innovation is to the next generation of travelers who are unwilling to accept the chaos and depressing adventures that so often define today's air travel experience.
Yes, the airlines play a gigantic role in that, but they are private companies who are swayed more by the bottom line and investor happiness than by the ever-growing public disdain for their product. The rebirth and rethinking of airport infrastructure is in part controlled by the public trust. We need to be the squeaky wheel in not letting politicians off the hook once they get past their campaign promises.
There are already plenty of scoffs from leaders like U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that infrastructure won't be a priority come January 21, 2017. Well, sir, it is for our readers and these travelers are the core of a travel industry that is one of the most consistent drivers of U.S. economic growth over the last decade.
We set out to help provide a baseline for discussion and debate as we hopefully begin to address airport infrastructure investment. But we got more input from readers than we could have ever realistically asked for, which led to many more conclusions and takeaways, and thusly, a larger package of stories for you to digest.
So why did we tackle airports? We've seen rankings out there, and we factored plenty of the great work done by other media and travel advocacy organizations into our research. But utlimately, where our survey differs is it factors in reliable traveler input heavily into the final rankings. Others have done an outstanding job tackling TSA wait times and the more data-driven aspects of compiling rankings.
This is a hybrid effort, using the statistics as merely one baseline for comparison while heavily weighting the voice of the traveler who is in the trenches each and every day.
Here's the full package of stories, led by one of the most passionate airport aficionados we know, senior editor Rich Thomaselli. The stories include a breakdown of the top 100 airports in the rankings, the best in each of the categories and stories on surprise winners, the rise of the midsize airports and the up-and-comers that are providing travelers with a welcome respite from the substandard efforts we have sadly been accustomed to from the country's airports.
We welcome and hope to hear your thoughts on the rankings. Let us know your experiences and how you'd rank the airports. Reach out to me on Twitter @TimWoodPulse, to Rich @RichTravelPulse and via email at email@example.com.
THE TRAVELPULSE TOP 100 U.S. AIRPORTS 2016