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September 20, 2023

Philly's airport ranks worst in customer satisfaction for third straight year

PHL CEO Atif Saeed says upgrades to terminals and other public areas are top priorities in improving flyers' travel experiences

Transportation Airports
PHL airport ranking Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

Philadelphia International Airport continues to rank poorly for customer satisfaction among large airports.

For the third consecutive year, Philadelphia International Airport has been ranked the worst large airport in North America. The rankings, released Wednesday, are based on an annual traveler satisfaction survey conducted by data analytics firm J.D. Power.

The survey collected feedback from more than 27,000 people in the U.S. and Canada between August 2022 and July 2023. Travelers rated their satisfaction in six categories: terminal facilities, arrival and departure, baggage claim, security check, baggage check and food, beverage and retail. Airports receive scores using an index of up to 1,000 points.

PHL's overall satisfaction score this year was 750, last among 28 large airports. (Large airports are those that have between 10 million and 32.9 million passengers each year. Mega airports are those with at least 33 million passengers a year.) The score is an improvement on last year's score of 729 but below 2021's score of 758.

The airport saw modest increases in scores for all of the survey's six categories, but the state of PHL's terminals and infrastructure continue to keep it at the bottom of the list.

"While we are pleased with the upward momentum, we know there is still much to be done to improve PHL, including a substantial long-term investment to improve our terminals and key infrastructure," PHL CEO Atif Saeed said.

One of the airport's highest grades was for food and retail offerings. In recent years, PHL has opened shops from homegrown businesses like Chickie's & Pete's, Tony Luke's, Geno's, La Colombe coffee and Yards Brewing.

J.D. Power noted that this year's survey reflected a "crippling combination" of record-high passenger volumes, weather disruptions and an ongoing pilot shortage that reduced the overall number of available flights. Still, satisfaction scores generally improved across the industry this year.

Despite the low customer satisfaction score, PHL ranked fifth worldwide for on-time departures last year in a ranking by aviation analytics firm Cirium. PlanetWare, another travel industry analyst, found that travelers at PHL get through security faster, on average, than at all but three major U.S. airports. It takes passengers just over nine minutes to get through security at PHL. 

Saeed said the airport's plan for the next 20 years will focus on upgrading public areas like terminal buildings, roadways and garages. This summer, the airport doubled the number of parking spaces available in its economy lot.

Currently, PHL is focused on investments in airport navigation, upgrades to its moving walkways and restroom renovations.

“We are also working on upgrading our in-terminal announcements, digital signage and WiFi systems,” Saeed said.

Among the new technologies the airport has introduced is a queue management system that provides passengers with security wait-time updates on signage in the airport's D/E and A-East checkpoints. The system is expected to be up and running in Terminals B and C by the end of this year.

Saeed said PHL also is developing an airport-wide customer service program that he hopes will improve the overall travel experience and translate to better rankings in future surveys.

Travelers' top three large airports are Tampa International Airport, John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California, and Salt Lake City International Airport. PHL ranked just behind Honolulu International Airport and Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport.