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O’Hare and Midway rank below average as passenger satisfaction at US airports falls in J.D. Power study

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 9/21/2022 Sarah Freishtat, Chicago Tribune
Southwest Airlines aircraft are parked at a terminal at Midway Airport on Sept. 13, 2022. © Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/TNS Southwest Airlines aircraft are parked at a terminal at Midway Airport on Sept. 13, 2022.

Passenger satisfaction with O’Hare International Airport and Midway Airport is dropping as air travelers return to Chicago, a new study shows.

Both of Chicago’s airports ranked below average for customer satisfaction among similarly sized airports, according to J.D. Power’s 2022 North America Airport Satisfaction Study, made public Wednesday. Among the country’s biggest airports, only Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey ranked below O’Hare.

Travelers wait for an elevator at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago on Aug. 23, 2022. © Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/TNS Travelers wait for an elevator at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago on Aug. 23, 2022.

The move to second-to-last marked an improvement for O’Hare from the 2021 study, when it ranked at the very bottom of the nation’s mega-airports. Still, though O’Hare no longer leaves passengers the least satisfied, the airport’s overall satisfaction score dropped this year.

The drop in scores at Chicago’s two airports reflects a nationwide trend, according to J.D. Power. Satisfaction with airports across the country fell as travelers encountered crowded terminals, fewer flight options, rising prices and labor shortages at airports and airlines, the study found.

The decline in satisfaction is expected, and is likely to continue through the next several months, said Michael Taylor, travel intelligence lead at J.D. Power. After that, the effects of inflation on travel demand and airport crowding remain to be seen, he said.

“There are more people in these airports,” he said. “And the higher the passenger volume, the lower the satisfaction.”

More than 6.6 million passengers flew through O’Hare in July, an 11% increase over July 2021, according to data from the Chicago Department of Aviation. At Midway, passenger volume increased by nearly 18% in July to 2.1 million.

O’Hare also might be encountering a common trend among airports with major construction projects planned, Taylor said. An $8.5 billion rehab and expansion of O’Hare is underway, including construction of a new Global Terminal and two satellite concourses, which have not yet broken ground, and an ongoing expansion of the airport’s Terminal 5.

Often, as airports approach major construction projects, authorities decline to invest in upgrades, Taylor said.

“You’re not going to put in a new tile floor, you’re not going to renovate the bathroom, because they’re all going to be gone in a few years,” he said.

Kevin Bargnes, spokesman for the Chicago Department of Aviation, highlighted work as part of the expansion that has already been completed, like a new rental car center, renovated pedestrian tunnels between the CTA Blue Line station and the terminals, and a new parking garage near the main terminals. The “people mover” airport train is back in service, after years of construction and delays.

But more work is on the way.

“Aspects of the construction work ahead may lead to short-term traveler disruptions, and O’Hare staff will make every effort to communicate these inconveniences to passengers ahead of time,” Bargnes said in an email. “But in the long run, O’Hare 21 will allow for a passenger experience that is worthy of one of the world’s great airports.”

Though it is largely outside of airport authorities’ control, airlines’ scheduling might also be a factor in passenger dissatisfaction, Taylor said. Carriers are flying fewer, fuller flights, which can mean a crush of people arriving at the airport around the same time.

For those arriving at the airport, some concessionaries have faced hiring challenges, Bargnes said. The department is working to help the firms staff up for the holiday season, he said, and new restaurants and retail will be opening at Midway into next year. New concessions are also planned for O’Hare.

Bargnes also touted high rankings for O’Hare and Midway in a separate survey by Global Traveler magazine.

The annual J.D. Power study was based on surveys of more than 26,500 U.S. or Canadian passengers between August 2021 and July 2022. It examined terminal facilities, airport arrivals and departures, baggage claim, security check, check-in and baggage check, and food, beverage and retail offerings.

Among the country’s largest “mega” airports, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport ranked highest. Tampa International Airport took the top spot in the large airport category, which also included Midway. Indianapolis International Airport ranked first in the medium airport group.

sfreishtat@chicagotribune.com

©2022 Chicago Tribune. Visit chicagotribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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