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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 complete rankings and methodology.
The best U.S. airports for business travelers this year were a mix of larger and smaller airports. The airports among our top five efficiently handled high traffic with minimal delays and cancellations and brought other amenities to the table. We also considered the cost of airport parking and accommodation near the airport.
Here are the best U.S. airports for business travelers in 2020:
Salt Lake City International Airport is the best airport for business travelers according to our study. Among air carriers who reported to the BTS, SLC had 112,800 total domestic flights in 2018. Flight performance was very strong at SLC, with 86% of flights departing and arriving on time, second only to Honolulu’s Daniel Inouye International Airport (second on our list). Only a very tiny fraction of flights—0.31%—were canceled at SLC in 2018.
Affordability also helped SLC rank in the top spot. The daily parking rate at the airport is just $9, and the nightly hotel rate in surrounding Salt Lake City averages an economical $165. One area where other top ranking airports, such as Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson, beat SLC is in terms of airport lounges. SLC has just one business lounge with wifi, compared to 14 at Hartsfield-Jackson.
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, located 10 miles south of downtown Atlanta, is the second best airport for business travelers based on our data. This airport took the lead among all in flight availability, with 386,900 flights departing from or arriving at Hartsfield Airport annually (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. 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 ATL—$10 for daily economy parking—and hotels in metro Atlanta also boosted this airport to the number two slot. The only downside is the cancellation rate of 1%, the highest among the top 15 airports.
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport rounds out the top three airports on our list. This is a fairly large airport, with 172,000 domestic flights reported in 2018. Eighty percent of departing and arriving flights were on time, and just 0.71% of flights were cancelled. The airport has already made progress on an extensive, $5.7 billion, 20-year renovation plan designed to further increase capacity for passengers, cargo, and military use.
PHX is conveniently located just five miles away from downtown Phoenix, which business travelers will like. For extended business trips, the daily parking rate of $7 is also light on the wallet. The average cost of a hotel stay in surrounding Phoenix is $168, making this city an affordable option for business travelers. Given that the airport is quite large, it would be nice if PHX adds more business lounges. Currently, the airport has five business lounges with wifi if you’re trying to get some work done before a flight.
Daniel Inouye International Airport in Honolulu, an airport that’s highly frequented by tourists, also happens to be a great airport for business travelers. Coming in fourth place in our study, HNL is the largest airport in Hawaii and a stopover point for all of the Hawaiian islands. This airport had better flight performance than any of the other 46 airports we considered in our analysis, with 92% of departing flights and 88% of arriving flights on time. The cancellation rate of 0.28% was also impressively low. That said, HNL sees significantly less volume than SLC and PHX, with just 49,100 flights per year (among reporting carriers).
In spite of the fact that this is a smaller airport, HNL has some impressive amenities. This includes 11 business lounges with wifi. On top of this, the airport is just six miles from downtown Honolulu. The only downside is that the cost of parking and hotel accommodations are on the high end, not surprising given that Hawaii is one of the most expensive states in the country.
George Bush International Airport, based in Houston, has over 26 airlines which fly to five continents. Interestingly, while this Houston airport made the top five, another—William P. Hobby Airport—landed in the bottom five. Of the two Houston-area airports, IAH has a lot more to offer business travelers: three times as many flights, 15% better on-time performance for departures, 7% better on-time performance for arrivals, and a lower cancellation rate. IAH also happens to be a hub for United Airlines and the airport of choice for business travelers flying internationally.
If you’re hoping to get some work done prior to your flight, IAH is a good choice, with 12 business lounges to work from. The only downside for IAH is that it’s about 20 miles from downtown Houston, which could make for a long drive in traffic.
The airports at the bottom of our list struggled with flights delays and cancellations. They also came up short in terms of amenities for business travelers, and were costlier in terms of parking and nearby hotel accommodations. Longer distances and drive times from the airport to downtown also played a role in the bottom-ranking airports.
Starting from the bottom, here are the worst U.S. airports for business travelers in 2020:
Chicago Midway International Airport landed at the very bottom of the list. The low ranking was primarily due to dismal on-time flight records. The airport’s on-time record for departing flights was 69% (the only airport in our study to dip under 70% for departure performance). The arrivals on-time rate, at 80%, was much stronger, but 2.26% of flights were canceled in 2018.
Size and convenience also played a role in MDW’s ranking. MDW is a smaller airport, with 87,300 domestic flights traveling through MDW each year (based on data from reporting carriers). Perhaps due to its smaller size and the fact that MDW caters to more low-cost carriers, there are no airline lounges in Midway at all, so you can’t count on a quiet place to complete work or take a phone call before a flight. Fortunately, the airport is convenient to downtown Chicago and offers moderately priced parking with a day rate of $15.
LaGuardia Airport is a big and highly trafficked airport, with 165,400 reported flights in 2018. That’s bigger than John F. Kennedy (JFK) Airport and Newark Liberty Airport across the Hudson. However, the airport might not be well-equipped to handle that flight volume. Only 76% of departures are on time, and 73% of arrivals are on time, leaving an entire quarter of flights that are late. LGA also had the highest cancellation rates—4.16%—among all 46 airports in our study.
New Yorkers love to hate LaGuardia Airport, although an $8 billion renovation that’s underway might bring positive changes. LGA is conveniently located to Manhattan, as well. The drive time from LGA to downtown Manhattan ends up being around 45 minutes with traffic, compared to about 1.5 hours from JFK to downtown.
Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans ranked in the bottom three in our study. It’s a small airport, with just 46,900 domestic flights traveling through the airport throughout the year. However, despite lower capacity, the airport’s on-time ratings were primarily responsible for docking points from MSY. Just 76% of departures and 79% of arrivals were on time, and slightly over 2% of flights ended up being canceled.
The silver lining is that MSY is located in a relatively affordable area and convenient to downtown New Orleans. The airport is 13 miles from downtown, airport parking is just $11 per day, and the average night hotel rate is $208.
Source: Wiki Commons
As mentioned earlier, William P. Hobby International Airport is the second Houston-area airport in our study. In most measures, it lags behind IAH. Flight capacity—at 54,400 flights per year—isn’t very high at HOU, yet only 70% of departing flights and 77% of arriving flights are on time. Slightly over 1% of flights were canceled in 2018.
HOU also lost points for lacking business amenities. There isn’t a single business lounge with wifi in the airport as of the publication date of this report, with the exception of a USO lounge that’s reserved for military members and their families. The airport does have some future renovation plans, but lounge construction isn’t on the horizon, so don’t count on a very quiet place to get work done prior to your flight. That said, if you’re planning a business event in the Houston area and want to prioritize convenience for attendees, then consider choosing HOU over IAH. HOU is half the distance to downtown Houston.
Newark Liberty International Airport is another airport that New Yorkers, as well their New Jersey neighbors, frequently use to get in and out of the city. Unfortunately, EWR landed in the bottom five of our ranking, due to a combination of poor flight performance and high costs. It had a middling 74% on-time record for departing flights, as well as the lowest on-time record for arriving flights —67%—among all the airports in our study. On top of that, 3.07% of flights were canceled in 2018.
In terms of positives, the airport does offer 14 wifi lounges for business travelers. In addition, the airport is just 12 miles from Manhattan and has $18 per day parking, half the cost of LaGuardia Airport. Many travelers to the New York City region also end up flying in and out of Newark and staying in New Jersey to save on accommodation costs. The average nightly hotel rate in the Newark area is just slightly over $200, compared to $385 in New York City.
Here’s our complete ranking of U.S. airports and how they stack up for business travelers in 2020:
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 throughout the country with the highest volumes of passenger 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!