Last updated: 08:54 AM ET, Mon November 21 2016

TravelPulse 100 Best US Airports: Denver, Detroit Models for Design Style and Substance

Airlines & Airports | Rich Thomaselli | November 21, 2016

TravelPulse 100 Best US Airports: Denver, Detroit Models for Design Style and Substance

Back when air travel was more sophisticated – from both the airlines and its travelers – there was a beauty to airports.

The iconic TWA Terminal at New York’s LaGuardia Airport comes to mind. Designed by the famed architect Eero Saarinen, the terminal was fully functional from 1962 to 2002, winning many design awards after it first opened. Today it is abandoned and set to become a hotel under the ambitious $4 billion renovation plan for LaGuardia announced last year.

In our TravelPulse survey of the best and worst airports in the U.S., one respondent summed it up by saying, “(Vice President Joe) Biden and (Donald) Trump are right, that the U.S. in general seems a bit shabby compared to other first-world countries. Most airports don't leave much of an individual impression, they are just corridors through which you pass to get on and off planes. Many airports I have been through left no impression at all, especially if I only changed planes there and didn't actually travel to or from the airport. To me it's very generic. It's amazing how much one airport experience is like all the others.”

But many facilities are trying to change that perception in the last decade. In our survey we asked for thoughts and ratings on modernity of airport terminals. Is it older or newer? Has the airport embraced newer technologies with WiFi, modern signage and device chargers?

At the top, two airports stood out – Denver International and Detroit Metropolitan.

Those two were tied, followed by Atlanta and Minneapolis in second, Charlotte in third, and San Francisco and Baltimore-Washington tied for fourth.

“San Francisco and Orange County-John Wayne, and Denver really stand out in the modern category for me,” one reader wrote. “Subtle things like art work, moving walkways in the middle of terminals, and plenty of outlets for charging electronic devices makes a difference.”

Denver built a brand new $4.2 billion airport in 1995 that was a year-and-a-half behind schedule and 50 percent more expensive at the time. Today, its design and functionality serves as a model for other airports.

As does Detroit.

“Detroit is one of the cleanest, modern U.S. airports,” wrote one survey-taker.

Said another: “I love the ease of connecting with their layout. One straight shot with two terminals. Very easy, sleek, and modern design.”

PHOTO: The mile-long ExpressTram runs the length of the terminal at Detroit Metro's McNamara Terminal.

Some others feeling the love in the survey:

“Charlotte is an amazing setup, and easy to get around. Additionally, I had no trouble with Wi-Fi at all while there.”

“Portland, Oregon hits this out of the park hands down. San Antonio, Texas is a close second.”

“San Diego's newest terminal is an expertly designed facility with fun digital art to match.”

“Free WIFI at Houston-George Bush has been a big plus.”

Coming at the bottom of the survey were Los Angeles International, New Orleans-Louis Armstrong, John F. Kennedy, Miami International, Newark-Liberty and, in a recurring theme, LaGuardia dead last.

“It’s just amazing to me with all the traffic an airport like LaGuardia has that it is such a dump,” said one survey respondent. “Where is all the tax money going? Is any of it being put back into the patron experience? JFK is at least trying. The JetBlue terminal is a great blueprint for the entire airport to follow.”

“It's hard to even find an outlet in LAX and the Wi-Fi isn't free,” said another. “You get a limit of 30 minutes free which is a real bummer if you have a long layover or delay, which is common at LAX.”

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