Study: Best Time-Saving Airports in the US
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Unless you enjoy watching planes take-off, you don't relish the thought of hanging around the airport. And, for business commuters who rely on air travel for work, flight delays can lead to the loss of billions of dollars in potential earnings. In a report compiled by the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee, passengers lost $12 billion worth of time due to flight delays.
While a certain amount of waiting is an unavoidable part of air travel, it can be reduced if you depart from one of the following time-saving airports.
To ensure you have the smoothest departure possible, we’ve evaluated which airports may be the best for reducing your time spent waiting around. We ranked the busiest U.S. airports on the following criteria: on-time departures, average departure delay, taxi-out times (when everyone has boarded a plane but it has not yet gone airborne), as well as each airport’s participation in the Transportation Security Administration’s expedited screening program.
Among those metrics, a passenger’s perception of the overall airport experience may be most affected by taxi-out times, regardless of how much time they already spent waiting inside the airport terminal. Behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman found that people’s most recent experience (in this case, time spent circling around the tarmac) can have the greatest impact on their impression of the overall experience.
Because of this “recency bias,” even when travelers experienced longer than average wait times at the security checkpoint or during other pre-boarding procedures, a brief taxi-out time will make some of them remember their departure as relatively painless.
According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), over 400 million enplanements took place at the 50 busiest U.S. airports in 2011. Forecasts from the Federal Aviation Administration suggest that the number of enplanements will continue to hold steady through 2013.
Based on the average ranking of the following metrics, we’ve pared down our list to the top 10 airports with a history of the shortest wait times.
Top 10 Time-Saving Airports
The Waiting Game
The following are the statistics for SJC and the rest of the top time-saving airports.
1. San José, CA (SJC)
San Jose tops our list for its high marks in on-time departures, low departure delays, and lower than average taxi-out times. SJC also boasts more elbow room. It's less crowded than others on the list due to its relatively small number of passengers in 2011—just over three million. By comparison, the busiest airport in the U.S., Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta (ATL), handled 33 million enplanements.
2. Honolulu, HI (HNL: Honolulu International)
Honolulu’s higher taxi-out times prevented it from taking the top spot on our survey, despite being ranked highest in on-time departures. However, its high ranking on this list is impressive considering it has nearly double the number of enplanements (5.6 million) to process than the top airport, SJC.
3. Fort Myers, FL (RSW: Southwest Florida International)
Despite a 12% increase in the number of enplanements from 2001 to 2011, RSW ranks as one of the highest overall in on-time departures and average departure delays.
4. Sacramento, CA (SMF: Sacramento International)
In the middle of the pack were SMF, SAT, and TPA, where passengers enjoyed higher than average on-time departures, average departure delays, and average taxi-out times.
5. San Antonio, TX (SAT: San Antonio International)
6. Tampa, FL (TPA: Tampa International)
7. Austin, TX (AUS: Austin-Bergstrom International)
Austin’s airport only recently began offering the TSA’s expedited program to frequent fliers of all five eligible airlines (Alaska, American, Delta, United, and US Air). Participating in this time-saving initiative will likely make navigating through this top-performing airport even quicker.
8. Minneapolis, MN (MSP: Minneapolis-St. Paul International/World-Chamberlain)
MSP is the airport on the list with the highest number of enplanements. Considering they processed just over 12 million passengers in 2011, its performance is particularly impressive. If it hadn’t been for its higher than average taxi-out time, it would have been in the top spot.
9. Seattle, WA (SEA: Seattle-Tacoma International)
Similar to MSP, Sea-Tac is ranked high in total number of enplanements (over 11 million) indicating that this airport is well-equipped to handle many passengers with relative ease. It too suffered from a higher than average taxi-out time, and those delays kept SEA from breaking into the top three.
10. Salt Lake City, UT (SLC: Salt Lake International)
In 2012, SLC boasted the second highest percentage of on-time departures and the lowest average departure delay, but it was clobbered by its higher than average taxi-out time. Given the recency bias, passengers would have forgotten about the relatively smooth boarding process and on-time departure the longer they waited on the tarmac. Improvements in this area could catapult SLC to the top spot in the future.
While time spent waiting on the tarmac and sitting through a delay because of weather or equipment failure is not something you can control, there are steps you can take to help reduce your overall wait time … even before leaving home.
This study examines high-level metrics which contribute to the overall efficiency of the busiest airports. These efficiencies are attained in spite of other factors not under the express control of airport administration, including individual airline operations that can affect passenger wait times (e.g., ticketing, baggage handling, etc.). In addition, each passenger’s expected wait-times can be impacted by a variety of factors. For instance, passengers on the same flight at the same airport might experience different wait times depending on different levels of benefits they receive from airline frequent flier programs.
Currently, just 40 percent of the airports on the list participate in the TSA’s expedited screening initiative, but many have announced their plans to join. JetBlue’s TrueBlue frequent fliers may enroll beginning in late 2013. This could ease security delays at their regional hubs, including SJC.
So, if your home airport doesn't appear on our list, don’t despair. Chances are, they’re already working on ways to make your future air travel experience more enjoyable. Their improvement projects may even qualify for funding via federal grants offered through the Airport Improvement Program (AIP). For those airports working to incorporate time-saving features, their overall rankings will likely change throughout 2013 and beyond.
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