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Here's something to keep in mind the next time you're trudging through a crowded airport: A new study has found that travelers are actually more satisfied with their experience as they go from check-in, through security and onto the plane.
According to J.D. Power's latest survey, released Wednesday, overall airline satisfaction registered 725 points on a 1,000-point scale. That's a 35-point improvement compared to 2010, the last time J.D. Power conducted the survey.
Medium-size airports, which tend to be less congested, earned slightly better scores than large airports, with an average 33 points higher.
The online survey was based on 21,009 airport evaluations from people traveling in North America between July and October. Last year, nearly 850 million travelers went through airports in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
"Airports in North America have learned from airports in Europe and Asia. If they can move you through check-in and security efficiently and quickly, you are more likely to spend money and enjoy your time in that airport," said Rick Garlick, global travel and hospitality practice lead at J.D. Power.
Two factors stood out as the primary reasons why more travelers are happier in airports.
First, there is a clear correlation between speed and happiness. J.D. Power found the highest satisfaction scores from those travelers who spent less than 15 minutes from the moment they entered the airport until the time they cleared security and were in the terminal. By comparison, those who took between 60 and 90 minutes to do so expressed the lowest satisfaction scores.
Once they're in the terminal, travelers reported higher satisfaction when they found better amenities, more restaurants and a wider variety of stores and shops. In particular, Garlick has noticed a number of airports have added higher-end restaurants where travelers can sit down for a meal.
"This is a nice trend because airports are realizing travelers want more than fast-food options," he said.
On average, travelers who were most satisfied spent $29 while in the terminal at large airports, and $24 at medium-size airports. By comparison, those who said they were disappointed spent just $10 and $11, respectively, at large and medium airports.
According to J.D. Power, millennials registered higher satisfaction at airports than older travelers. They also spent the most money, with the average millennial who spent fewer than 50 minutes in the terminal shelling out $25. That compares to an average $18 for Gen X, $10 for boomers and $7 for "pre-boomers" who were born before 1946.
So, which airports received the highest ratings and which ones lagged?
Among large airports, Portland International in Oregon earned the highest score of 791.
"Portland does everything well," Garlick said. "It's very well managed and very efficient."
On the other end of the spectrum, Newark Liberty registered the lowest score, 646, which was well below the large airport average of 719. That's despite a recent upgrade to the airport's United Airlines terminal, which has won praise from travelers. However, congestion remains a major issue, which makes flights more prone to delays.
For medium-sized airports, Dallas Love Field ranked No. 1, with 792 points, while Cleveland Hopkins was the lowest with a score of 698. The medium airport average was 752.