Although the nation's major airlines continue to boast improved on-time arrival rates and less lost luggage, air travelers are still unhappy with America's airports. And Los Angeles International Airport is rated among the worst.
San Francisco International Airport doesn't rate much better.
Slow baggage delivery, long security lines, uncomfortable terminal seats and a lengthy, frustrating check-in process are the main complaints from air travelers about U.S. airports, according to a new survey by consumer research company J.D. Power & Associates Inc. Overall, the passengers gave the nation's airports a rating of 690 on a 1,000-point scale.
The findings came from an online survey of 12,100 passengers who took round-trip flights between January and December 2009. The overall satisfaction rating for 2009 is a small increase over the 675 rating that travelers gave in the 2008 J.D. Power survey. But travelers still give hotels (756 on average) and rental cars (733 on average) higher satisfaction ratings, J.D. Power said.
The bad news for Californians is that the Golden State is home to some of the nation's lowest-rated airports.
Among the largest airports, Los Angeles International ranked 18th out of 19 airports in overall satisfaction, with a rating of 616 on a 1,000-point scale. The passengers who were surveyed gave LAX below-average marks on accessibility to the airport, including parking, ease of checking in and the amount of time it took to get through security.
San Francisco International Airport came in 13th, with a rating of 647 points. Passengers gave SFO average ratings for accessibility and ease of checking in but below-average marks for security.
With a rating of 609 points, Newark International Airport in New Jersey came in last on the list.
Among 20 medium-size airports, San Diego International came in 12th, with a rating of 678 points. The lowest-ranked medium airport was New York's LaGuardia International with a rating of 604.
In a ranking of 24 small airports, Sacramento International (715 points), Bob Hope in Burbank (707) and John Wayne in Santa Ana (706) came in 15th, 16th and 17th, respectively. San Jose International (645 points) was at the bottom of the list of small airports.
Why does airport satisfaction matter?
The J.D. Power survey found that travelers who like their airport tend to spend more money there, up to $20.55 per visit compared with $14.12 for travelers who are unhappy with the airport. And presumably, if travelers are satisfied with their airport, they are more likely to fly from that facility.
United bashed over bicycle fee
United Airlines' image took a beating last summer when Canadian musician Dave Carroll posted a music video on YouTube.com about how United baggage handlers broke his guitar while he was on a stopover at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.
United representatives later met with Carroll to make peace, but the damage was done. The video went viral and has been seen nearly 8 million times on YouTube.com.
Now United is getting bashed again on the Internet, this time by Joe Lotus, an attorney and bicyclist who launched a Facebook page that blasts the airline for charging $175 one way to check a bicycle.
Lotus started the site (United Airlines is Ridiculous to Charge $175 Each Way to Travel With a Bike) on Feb. 10. Despite the lengthy name, it already has more than 5,000 members.
In contrast, the Facebook page launched by United Airlines has fewer than 2,000 members.
Lotus, a Chicago resident who competes in triathlons, said he created the Facebook page after he realized that taking his bike along would cost him an extra $350 for a round trip on United. Meanwhile, airlines such as Southwest, JetBlue, Alaska and Virgin America typically charge only $50 each way to check a bicycle.
But Lotus is not some frustrated economy-class whiner. He is a United Red Carpet Club member who has flown so much on United that he earned the premier executive status four years in a row.
"More often than not, the bike fare costs more than my airfare," he said.
United, Lotus points out, is also a corporate partner of USA Cycling, the official governing body of bicycle racing in the U.S.
Andrea Smith, a spokeswoman for USA Cycling, said the partnership meant that group members got a 10% discount when they flew on United. But she sympathizes with cyclists who must pay the $175 fee.
"It's outrageous and we are completely sympathetic to that," she said.
In response to the criticism, United officials said they would review the bike-transporting fee.
"At the end of the day, that is what social media is for -- to get feedback," said airline spokeswoman Robin Urbanski.
Pope's stance on body scanners
The full-body scanning devices that are increasingly in use at airports across the country may have a new high-profile critic: Pope Benedict XVI.
According to news reports, Benedict came out against such equipment during a speech last week to 1,200 Italian airport workers at the Vatican. Already, civil liberty groups have complained that the full-body scanners violate the privacy of passengers by creating what looks like a nude image of a screened passenger. The technology is intended to spot explosives and weapons hidden under clothing.
The pope did not use the term "body scanner," but he told the airport workers, "It is above all essential to protect and value of the human person in their integrity."
Although Benedict acknowledged the need for airport workers to protect against terrorist threats, he said: "Even in this situation, one must never forget that respecting the primacy of the human person and attention to his or her needs does not make the service less efficient nor penalize economic management."
The pope, of course, doesn't have to worry about airport scanning machines. On international flights, he typically flies on Italian carrier Alitalia on a chartered plane dubbed Shepherd One.