Last updated: 01:00 AM ET, Mon November 21 2016

TravelPulse 100 Best US Airports: Yes, Big Airports Can Be Easy To Navigate, Too

Airlines & Airports | Rich Thomaselli | November 21, 2016

TravelPulse 100 Best US Airports: Yes, Big Airports Can Be Easy To Navigate, Too

Let’s face it, going to the airport is a stressful situation.

How stressful?

How about this – in a 2007 study, a leading neuropsychologist in the United Kingdom likened going through Heathrow Airport in London to facing a riot.

Now that’s stress, and with similarly large airports in the U.S. it’s not much different. And it begins the moment you leave the house.

You’re fighting traffic in a car or taxi, jockeying for space on a crowded train or subway, driving in circles looking for a parking spot, walking great distances to the terminal, walking great distances from check-in to gate … and we haven’t even mentioned the security checkpoints yet.

That’s why ‘ease of access’ was such an important topic in the TravelPulse survey seeking the best and worst airports in the United States. How is getting to the airport via car or public transportation? Is there sufficient parking, moving walkways, trams and other amenities that make access easy? Basically, is your commute to the airport – and then navigating the facility after you arrive – more difficult than it should be?

For Orlando International Airport and Charlotte-Douglas, it wasn’t, according to our respondents. Orlando was the easiest to traverse, followed closely by Charlotte, Denver, Seattle and Tampa.

It’s not surprising.

All five are major cities with airports built along major highways, but traffic and congestion are not nearly what they are in New York or Los Angeles or Washington given the volume in those big cities.

In fact, the respondents’ answers to our survey were right in line with a research survey of the nation’s 250 busiest airports released in July. The study from AirportXP, a mobile insights platform that allows travelers to share their experiences, found that Salt Lake City’s airport was the easiest to park at and to access, followed by Tampa, Charlotte, Detroit and Orlando.

For ease of getting to the terminal, Salt Lake City also ranked No. 1 with followed by Tampa, Charlotte, Denver and Atlanta.

For the nation’s 14th largest airport with some 36 million passengers annually, the parking is also quite affordable. Its highest daily rate is $25 – and that’s for valet parking. Park it yourself and it’s $17. You’ll pay $33 a day at John F. Kennedy International in New York.

“Orlando is my home base, so I’m prejudiced,” wrote one respondent to the TravelPulse survey. “We love this airport with the shuttles to the terminals.”

Ah, the shuttles. It’s one of Orlando’s great advantages. MCO has 129 gates spread through four main terminals but after passing through security passengers can access shuttles to each of the four terminals.

“Orlando Airport has a really great internal airport train that can easily take you to any terminal,” one respondent said. “It's a huge airport but I've been through Orlando dozens of times and I've always been able to find my gate easily with just a simple train ride.”

Not only is it a fun ride – kids enjoy starting inside, dipping out into the sunshine over elevated tracks, and arriving back inside again – but it is quick and easy.

And it’s only going to get better.

In May, the design and construction process was approved for a new $1.8 billion South Terminal Complex, which will house 16-24 additional gates south of the airport’s current complex. As part of its design, the new South Terminal will accommodate the largest aircraft in production, including the A380. And work is already underway on several projects that are part of a $1.1 billion Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). Construction has begun on the new Automated People Mover (APM) Complex and the Intermodal Terminal Facility (ITF). The APM Complex will link the airport’s north and south properties. The ITF will provide greater connectivity to the region and the state with the capability to handle four individual rail lines, including inter-city passenger rail, commuter rail and light rail.

Other airports earning kudos from respondents for ease of access:

“San Francisco and the access to BART makes city travel easy and convenient. John Wayne OC is my local favorite, which I have never had issues with parking, shuttle services, trams, or anything else.”

“ATL and MSP have the most organized walkways, trams and 'people movers.’”

“Portland, Oregon has done everything right.”

Bringing up the rear were Philadelphia International, Newark-Liberty, Miami International, JFK and, at the bottom, LaGuardia.

“JFK is the worst international airport I've been to,” said one respondent. “You have to go through security (again) when connecting, and the bus to connect terminals is awful.”

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