Sunday, August 29, 2010

Our airports are better than yours

If at least one online travel publication is to believed, Houston has the best airports in the United States:
You don’t have to be an oil baron to get the most out of Houston’s top-ranked airports—but it helps. The Texas city tops the charts for its VIP-friendly airline lounges, found mostly at George Bush Intercontinental (IAH). For everyone else, both IAH and Houston Hobby came in at No. 2 in the AFC survey for their food and drink (don’t miss the Tex-Mex or Cajun fare at local chains Pappasito’s and Pappadeaux) and second for entertainment—which may reflect that free WiFi. Best of all, Houston’s airports get the job done: they come in third place for on-time performance and second for their competent and down-home-friendly staff.

I think part of the reason why Houston's airports rate so well is because they are so comparatively modern; over the last decade or so, a great deal of investment has been made at both airports, including the opening of Terminal E and, more recently, significant renovations to Terminal C Bush Intercontinental; and the Central Concourse and new ticketing area at Hobby. These improvements aren't over yet; work on Hobby's new baggage claim area continues (hopefully it will be completed soon, because, the temporary claim area is kind of cramped). My only gripe about Hobby is that there needs to be more economy parking; otherwise, the airport is a breeze to get into and out of.

Airline staff has a lot to do with Houston's high ranking, as well. Southwest (Hobby's main carrier) has always made their staff's pleasant and cordial service a key part of their corporate, and as somebody who flies Southwest frequently I think that's generally true. Continental (Intercontinental's dominant carrier), likewise, seems to have a reputation for staff that is courteous, at least when compared to the industry average. Whether that changes when the merger with United (which does not have a reputation for good customer service) remains to be seen.

Local airports were rated on a variety of factors, including design and functionality, food and drink options, shopping, entertainment amenities (such as free WiFi or VIP lounges), on-time performance, ground transportation and the efficiency and demeanor of airport employees. New York, Los Angeles and St. Louis were rated the worst airport cities. A slideshow of the entire list is here, although for some reason many major airports, such as Detroit, Baltimore or Salt Lake City, weren't included.

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