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With the warmer weather of spring fast approaching, traveling is on more people’s minds. Compared to year-end travel, spring travel season is more unpredictable, especially for business owners and executives. Whether you’re attending an industry conference, meeting a client, or combining business and personal travel during the kids’ spring break, you’ll be glad to make your journey more efficient.
To aid companies, we ranked this year’s best and worst U.S. airports for business travelers. We developed our ranking by evaluating airport performance data from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), each airport’s proximity to downtown, and airport amenities.
Read on to see the full ranking and methodology.
The best U.S. airports for business travelers this year also happen to be some of the busiest airports in the country. It’s no surprise that airports with high levels of passenger traffic have more flights to accommodate travelers. However, the airports among our top five efficiently handle high traffic with minimal delays and cancellations and bring other amenities to the table.
Here are the best U.S. airports for business travelers in 2019:
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, located 10 miles south of downtown Atlanta, is the best airport for business travelers based on our data. This airport took the lead in flight availability, with 386,900 flights departing from or arriving at Hartsfield Airport (among those carriers that reported to the BTS). ATL has been the world’s busiest airport for the last two decades, catering to more than 103 million passengers each year. Passengers use ATL to travel east and west, both domestically and internationally.
Even though millions of passengers travel through Hartsfield, an impressive 82% of departures and 85% of arrivals were on time in 2018, which is critical for business executives who are traveling in time-bound conditions. Just 1% of flights at ATL were canceled in 2018, well below the cancellation rate for many other major airports. The airport also earns points for its close proximity to downtown and over a dozen business lounges with Wi-Fi. Finally, the relative affordability of parking at Hartsfield—$10 for daily economy parking—and hotels in metro Atlanta also boost this airport to the number one slot.
Chicago O’Hare is the second-best airport for business travelers this year. O’Hare and Hartsfield airport have a long-fought rivalry for the title of busiest airport in the nation. Among air carriers who reported to the BTS, Chicago had 319,100 total flights in 2018. Flight performance was good, though weaker than Hartsfield Airport. Seventy-eight percent of O’Hare’s departing and arriving flights were on time in 2018, and 1.93% of flights were canceled.
One area where O’Hare beats Hartsfield is in terms of airport lounges. O’Hare has 17 lounges with Wi-Fi, compared to Hartsfield’s 14. And although hotel prices are high in the Chicago metro area, daily economy airport parking—at $10 per day—is less expensive than major airports in Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, and New York City.
Dallas Fort Worth Airport is the main airport serving Northeast Texas. DFW flies passengers to over 220 destinations, 56 of them international, making this an important airport for business travelers. The airport is currently in the middle of an expensive remodel aimed at making the airport higher-capacity and more tech-friendly.
In 2018, DFW had 263,000 departing and arriving flights among BTS-reporting carriers, placing it right behind Hartsfield and O’Hare. In 2018, 78% of departures and 80% of arrivals were on time, and the airport canceled 1.76% of all flights. DFW is about 20 miles from downtown Dallas, placing it a little farther away from the city center than other cities’ major airports. However, the airport has 10 lounges with Wi-Fi and $10 daily economy parking, making it a good overall choice for business travelers.
With the Rocky Mountains visible from many airport windows, Denver International Airport is a very pleasant place for a business traveler to travel through. In terms of physical footprint, it’s the second-largest airport in the world. It’s also a busy airport and central layover point.
Comparatively, even though DEN had lower flight traffic than Chicago O’Hare in 2018, it had better flight performance. In 2018, Denver Airport had 233,700 reported departures and arrivals. Eighty percent of departures and 82% of arrivals were on time, and only 0.62% of flights were canceled. That’s the 11th-best cancellation rate among all 46 airports that we reviewed.
Denver didn’t perform as well in terms of convenience and cost of accommodation. The airport is more than 20 miles away from downtown Denver, and hotel prices average $205 per night. On the positive side, daily economy parking at DEN is only $8, which is the least expensive rate among the top five airports.
If business matters take you out west, good news! Los Angeles International Airport rounds out our top five best airports for business travelers. LAX is the largest airport in Southern California and a hub for flights across the U.S. and to Asia. Last year, according to carriers who reported to BTS, LAX handled more than 220,300 flights. Eighty-two percent of departures and 81% of arrivals were on time, and 0.83% of flights were canceled.
LAX has a whopping 22 lounges with Wi-Fi—with more than a dozen airlines represented—second only to New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport. The Los Angeles Airport is 17 miles from downtown, although heavy Los Angeles traffic might take you awhile to actually get there. Hotel prices, as you might expect, are higher than average, at $257 per night. Given the area’s high cost of living, airport economy parking is relatively affordable, at $12 per day.
The largest and busiest U.S. airports shined on our list. Smaller, regional airports weren’t able to make up ground. It’s a given that smaller airports earned fewer points for flight availability and number of lounges. However, many regional airports also struggled with flights delays and cancellations.
Starting from the bottom, here are the worst U.S. airports for business travelers in 2019:
Memphis International Airport placed last in this year’s ranking of airports for business travelers. The airport is just over 10 miles southeast of downtown Memphis and has undergone a transformation over the last decade. Until 2008, MEM was a busy layover stop for business and leisure travelers and a hub for Northwest Airlines. After Delta (headquartered at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson) purchased Northwest that year, passenger traffic plummeted at Memphis. The runways are still busy because the airport is home to FedEx’s shipping hub, but business travelers often can’t get direct flights from MEM to important destinations.
Last year, airline carriers reported 14,600 flights departing from and arriving at Memphis International. Despite low traffic numbers, flight performance wasn’t too bad. Eighty-four percent of departing and arriving flights were on time last year, and 1.15% of flights were canceled. The city is definitely affordable, in terms of parking ($6 for economy daily parking) and nearby hotel prices. However, there’s only one lounge with Wi-Fi in the airport, so amenities fall short for business travelers.
In a state that has 287 public-use airports, Anchorage International gets the lion’s share of Alaska’s tourism traffic. Alaska is not a common business destination, but is popular among executives in the oil, mining, tourism, and fishing industries. ANC is also the main airport for Alaska-based business travelers seeking to journey out of the state.
Airport carriers reported 17,200 flights into and out of ANC in 2018, slightly more than Memphis. Airport performance was quite positive, with 90% of departing flights and 82% of arriving flights on time. However, 1.76% of flights were canceled. This is the same as DFW’s (third-best ranked airport) cancellation rate, but ANC was unable to make up for high cancellation rates with good performance in other categories. There’s only one lounge in the airport with Wi-Fi, and nearby hotel prices are expensive at an average of $275 per night.
Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport caters to Ohio and Kentucky residents with seven carriers, over 175 daily departures, and nonstop connections to 47 cities. Amazon is opening an air cargo hub at CVG in 2021, so millions more passengers and packages will soon be traveling through the airport. For now, though, CVG still isn’t ready for primetime, at least as far as business travel is concerned.
In 2017 (data unavailable for 2018), participating carriers reported 18,800 flights traveling to and from CVG airport. This is from a peak of 40,800 total flights in 2013. Eighty-six percent of departures and 85% of arrivals were on time last year, and just 0.66% of flights were canceled. However, there are only two airport lounges with Wi-Fi for business travelers, and the airport is 13 miles from downtown Cincinnati. Given the relatively low cost of living in the area, $9 for daily economy parking is also pretty steep.
Albuquerque International Sunport (so named because the city gets 280 days of sunlight each year) is the largest airport serving the state of New Mexico, and caters to more than 5 million passengers each year. ABQ is a layover stop for overseas flights, but the airport’s eight major carriers only offer non-stop domestic service to 24 U.S. cities.
The airport hosted 19,100 flights in 2017, among carriers that reported to BTS (no 2018 data available). Unfortunately, only 79% of departures and arrivals were on time last year. There were also no airport lounges with Wi-Fi. On the positive side, only 0.31% of flights were canceled, and parking and hotels prices were affordable. In fact, in terms of hotel prices for corporate travelers, Albuquerque was among the five most affordable cities in the country.
Fifth from the bottom on our list is Palm Beach International Airport, located in sunny West Palm Beach, Florida. Florida is a large state with five major airports, and Palm Beach is the smallest in terms of total flights and passenger traffic. In 2017, airline carriers reported a total of 24,400 flights through PBI (no data available for 2018).
The airport could earn a better ranking next year by stemming flight delays and cancellations. Seventy-five percent of departures and 76% of arrivals were delayed more than 15 minutes last year, which is the worst delay rate among the bottom five airports. On top of that, over 1% of flights were canceled. Since the airport is small, there is just one airport lounge. On the bright side, the airport is fewer than four miles from downtown West Palm Beach. Plus, hotel and parking prices ($7 per day for daily economy parking) are relatively affordable.
Here’s our complete ranking of the best U.S. airports for business travelers in 2019:
We started out our analysis with a list of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) top 45 U.S. airports (navigate to “Facilities” and “OPSNet 45”). These are airports in metropolitan areas with the highest volumes of traffic. We did not include Teterboro Airport even though it’s on the FAA list because BTS has no flight performance data for this airport.
After gathering the initial list, we ranked the best and worst airports for business travelers by using BTS airport performance data, Google Maps, and publicly available airport and pricing information. We compared airports along a variety of variables to ensure that neither large nor small airports received an undue advantage.
One of the most important factors for any business traveler is flight availability when flying to or from a specific airport. Business travelers need to be able to find flights that fit their busy schedules and reliably reach their intended destination. Therefore, airports with more flights, better on-time stats, and fewer cancellations received more points.
For this variable, we used 2018 airport data from BTS. BTS tracks the total number of flights—departures plus arrivals—at each airport. Note that only some airline carriers report to BTS, so in reality, total flights at a specific airport might be higher than the BTS numbers reflect. BTS also tracks each airport’s flight cancellation rate and the percentage of on-time departures and arrivals. A delay is defined as any flight that takes off or lands more than 15 minutes after the scheduled time.
For a few smaller airports, such as Memphis International, total number of flights wasn’t available for 2018. In those cases, we used 2017 flight totals. Note that the BTS is still updating 2018 flight data, so the numbers we tracked for our ranking might differ slightly from what’s on the BTS website.
Another important factor for business travelers is the ability to work while waiting for a flight, so we collected data about airport lounges from Loungereview. You typically need to purchase a business or first-class ticket, hold an airline-affiliated business credit card, or pay a one-time fee to access airport lounges.
On Loungereview, you can sort lounges at each airport based on which ones have business amenities (e.g. computer, printer, and/or fax access) and Wi-Fi. We assigned more points to airports that have more lounges with business amenities and Wi-Fi. For the few airports that weren’t listed on Loungereview, we found data on lounge availability from Sleeping in Airports and LoungeBuddy.
Next, we evaluated each airport’s proximity to downtown since this is where most convention centers, office buildings, and other areas of interest to business travelers tend to be located. Business travelers should quickly and conveniently be able to reach the city center, so the shorter the distance to downtown, the more points we gave to the airport.
Google Maps gives variable distances and drive times, based on which route you take and when you make a trip. We used the shortest distance to downtown in miles that’s shown in Google Maps. In some cases, we had to use our best judgment to determine which downtown travelers are trying to reach. For instance, the majority of business travelers arriving at Baltimore/Washington International Airport (BWI) are heading to downtown Washington, D.C. (not downtown Baltimore).
Business travelers might use a combination of transportation options—public transportation, ride hailing services, and car rentals—to reach their final destination. But airport parking still remains an important amenity for business travelers and a major source of revenue for airports after airline fees. We assigned higher points for airports with less expensive daily parking rates. We used the price of daily economy parking as a baseline for comparison.
Hotel cost is the final data point we evaluated. Ideally, business travelers should have access to reasonably priced accommodations. We assigned more points to airports that are located in cities with more affordable daily hotel rates. Pricing information came from Business Travel News’ 2018 Corporate Travel Index, which tracks hotel costs for corporate travelers.
After ranking airports in each category and assigning the specified weighting to each category, we were able to develop a comprehensive ranking of the best and worst U.S. airports for business travelers.
The good news from our airport ranking is that business owners and executives in many parts of the country have reason to be happy. The best airports aren’t centralized in one region. They are located on both coasts and in the heart of the country.
If the airport closest to your business didn’t make it into the top, consider making a layover stop at one of the top-ranked airports. Whether you’re traveling only for business this year or combining business and leisure, traveling through the best airports will improve the journey. Happy travels!