The world's top 25 airports? Not 1 in the US

Global travelers have voted -- and the results have President Obama and others much chagrined.

By Bruce Kennedy May 7, 2013 8:25AM

Image: Boeing 737s © Bryan Mulder, Flickr, Getty ImagesFlying commercial airlines in the U.S. isn't fun anymore, and it really hasn't been for decades. It's not just the flights -- the whole airport experience is something most travelers simply endure as they cope with lengthy security lines and overused facilities.

Just last week President Barack Obama lamented the poor state of America's airports and how their deterioration affects the nation's long-term competitiveness. He noted that, according to a newly released list of the the world's top 100 airports, "there was not a single U.S. airport that came in the top 25, not one. Not one U.S. airport was considered by the experts and consumers who use these airports to be in the top 25 in the world."

The survey the president referred to was the World Airport Awards, conducted annually by U.K.-based Skytrax.

The awards are based on survey responses from more than 12 million airline customers from 108 nations at nearly 400 airports worldwide. The independent study evaluates a traveler's experience across nearly 40 factors, including check-in, security, immigration, airport shopping, gate departures and other categories.

For the record, here are the top 10 airports on the Skytrax 2013 survey of the world's 100 best, along with their rankings for 2012 (in parentheses):

  1. Changi Airport, Singapore (2)

  2. Incheon International, South Korea (1)

  3. Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam (4)

  4. Hong Kong International (3)

  5. Beijing Capital International (5)

  6. Munich Airport (6)

  7. Zurich Airport (7)

  8. Vancouver International (9)

  9. Haneda Airport (Tokyo International) (14)

  10. London Heathrow (11)

The top-ranked U.S. airports were Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International at No. 30, followed by Denver at 36, San Francisco at 40 and Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson at 48.

But some experts and analysts say those results should be taken with a big bag of salt. In his blog at, Matthew Yglesias says the Skytrax survey "doesn't appear to be particularly rigorous or scientific in its sampling."

And Angela Gittens, director general of the industry trade group Airport Councils International, believes airport comparisons by a global group of travelers are bound to be uneven.

"Major international hubs in the U.S. are sometimes hampered by long immigration and security queues," she told PolitiFact, "which would hurt their rankings in comparison to an airport with primarily domestic service, such as Cincinnati."

Gittens also noted that compared with most American facilities, national governments in many countries "see their airports as key assets for their economic vitality and strive to make the visitor's journey through the airport as smooth as possible."

Skytrax appeared to agree that some of the results hinge on issues of comfort, like the overall treatment of travelers, rather than factors like waiting times.

One of the most prominent sections of the survey, Skytrax spokesman Peter Miller told PolitiFact, deals with customer service, staffing and convenience. "These are the issues that are of prime importance to travelers," he said, "and which cause the biggest distinction between airports worldwide."

So while U.S. airports may get the job done, most travelers agree they're no fun to visit.

More on moneyNOW

May 7, 2013 11:19AM
Heathrow is a top airport? It's a dump! Even Frankfurt is better than Heathrow.
May 7, 2013 12:39PM
Flying an international fight in and out of Los Angeles sucks!  I have purposely driven to San Francisco on two occasions just to avoid the crap at LAX.  The 5-1/2 hour drive was well worth my time.  The ease in coming through Customs and Immigration is much faster than in Los Angeles. While traveling to Singapore and Hong Kong I was amazed at how clean and user friendly everything was.  And yes, customer service was great.  Going through Immigration was a breeze and it made me think what the Hell was our problem why can't we seem to have enough personnel with open counters to screen the passengers back in to the country. Clearly as a major super power and definitely the most dynamic country on the planet, how is it that we can't seem to process passengers in or out of the country in a timely and/or courteous manner.
May 7, 2013 1:53PM

I travel a lot internationally and most US airports look like they are from a 3rd world country. 

May 7, 2013 1:36PM
#1 has to be cramped seating! Been flying for 40 ys and the seats have gotten more narrow and the leg room has decreased. Short flight, not too bad. Over 3-4 hours, murder! 
May 7, 2013 2:50PM
I fly over 250k miles a year and not only are the US airports the worst in the world the airlines are too. This extends to beyond general shops and restaurant facilities but also to frequent flyer lounges that are really far below standards in the rest of the world. The US infrastructure is really showing its age, maybe time to bring some of those tax dollars back from overseas wars and invest them in this country
May 7, 2013 1:03PM
If ya do much traveling you know that it's fairly accurate.An airport outside of Tokyo can put 100's of people thru their security in about 20 minutes.They don't play.
May 7, 2013 9:35AM
4 years in office isn't enough time for any President to be blamed about US airports. Just tighten up your panties and admit they suck. Air travel majorly sucks. From groping TSA checkers, to delayed/canceled flights, crying babies, and the idiots who think it's fun to purposely by-pass airport security. All of them should be sentenced to 6 months sleeping in the airport and eating economy flight food. 
May 7, 2013 2:40PM

This is a surprise?  Seems to be part of a pattern.   Forget about 3rd world airports, we're becoming a 3rd world country; our roads, bridges, etc. are disasters waiting to happen.  Mass transit is a joke. Corruption and waste is rampant in both the public and private sectors.  (yes I do get a kick out of those who insist that the private sector can solve all our problems.  If you don't think monumental waste and inefficiency exists in corporate America, I might have a bridge to sell you.)  Ever call customer service;  ("press 1 to hear us laugh or 2 to get disconnected")  or a help desk? (did they speak english?)   And then we have the monkeys ... aka TSA agents (with apologies to the monkeys) who spend their time (and our tax dollars) patting down 4 year olds in strollers and 85 year old grandmothers in wheelchairs. You can make more money flipping burgers at Mickey D's ... and you expect competence?   Shall I continue ...?  

May 7, 2013 11:57AM

We in the USA airports deal with a lot of SLOW staff at the ticket counters to long lines with TSA and staff who can't not answer your questions or told not to?

I fly at least four times a year with in the USA ... I arrive early cause of delays with flights to gate problems to waiting for some drunk to find his gate.

TSA is slow cause at OK. City you are lucky if you have two check areas open at once! Most of the time it's ONE for all gates and airlines. TSA is rude but you better not say much or your pulled from the scan or worse.

Las Vegas is slow moving lines to delays at the gate for jet way clean ups as I was told on one flight. Most airport bathrooms are not clean and stink of pee or crap.  Dallas was a mess cause of delays and missed flights so every time I have to land there I am late getting back to OK. City cause of back ups in Dallas. We are not a destination city in OK. So to get a flight to where you need to go you must do hoops to different city's to get to where you must go = Delays:

 It's not fun to fly today as it was in the 70's and 80's and today I hate to fly cause of all the problems along the way..........

May 7, 2013 1:57PM
OBTW, if you want security, real security fly out/into of Zurich, the best and least intrusive.
May 7, 2013 2:58PM

There is a very simple reason for this that is often ignored.  US airports (and airlines) are some of the oldest in the world, because they were also some of the first to be built.  Now with declining infrastructure budgets we are left with decaying airports while emerging/booming markets are building new and upgrading.  Pretty simple actually.


I travel internationally a lot (particularly to Asia) and some strategies I use to make my life easier:

1) Avoid changing planes in the US,  make your US airport your last airport.  Try to do any necessary layovers at overseas airports, as those layovers are usually much nicer experiences (shopping, restaurants, internet, power) and the plane security handling is almost always more efficient than it is in the US.

2) Sorry to say this next one, but if you are of Asian descent (as my wife is), then avoid LAX and avoid Miami.  The TSA/customs agents there are prejudiced as hell.  I'm sure there are other racial biases in other airports, those are just the ones I have first hand experience with.

3) Pick airlines based on their hospitality reputations (e.g., Singapore airlines).  Non-US airlines almost always win this.

4) Pick airlines based on amenities offered (e.g., food quality, video capabilities, power at seats).  Again, almost always non-US airlines.


The only thing I nominally try to do to that is US-centric is I try to pick Boeing planes over Airbus planes, if everything else is somewhat equal. This is just a personal thing I do because I don't like the way the EU subsidizes Airbus.

May 7, 2013 2:41PM

Airports are a business.....and in the US, as everybody knows....businesses are dictated by the demands of two entities - politics and share case you haven't noticed, the consumer has no stake in this or anything else anymore because.....consumers are STUPID and haven't figured out that you don't vote with your ballet - you vote with your WALLET !


As soon as people in the US stop spending their money on crappy goods and services - we will stop getting crappy goods and services.


As soon as we stop electing crappy, crooked, self-serving politicians,  we will get the consumer advocacy we deserve. If you stop giving your money to crappy corporations, they won't have the money to lobby crappy politicians and the crappy politicians will have to get their support from the people that hired them, instead of the corporations who bought them.


Besides, most of the rest of the world is not driven by the corporate greed that demands we cut back on everything necessary to make the price of the stock rise higher, so greedy egomaniacal CEOs can get richer.

May 7, 2013 12:27PM
In part, our "airport experience" is the result of what we the people demanded from our government after 911. The passage of the homeland security act (next to obamacare one of the largest attacks on personal liberty and the Constitution ever perpetrated) in order that the "flying public" felt safe enough to fly and keep the economy going resulted in the TSA, horrible parking problems at most airports, the need to move the rental car facilities off the airport property and the subsequent increased cost of traveling.

I truly believe that all federal laws and spending programs should sunset in 5 years. At least they could be reviewed for efficacy and altered or dumped.

May 7, 2013 1:49PM

Travelled extensively and can say many of the airports mentioned in top 10 are well deserved for convenience of connections, amenities, number of flights etc. I like Schiphol in Amsterdam for the ease of amenities from shopping, dining, transportation (train) and the ability to walk across the street to rental cars.


My favorite US International Airport is SFO (San Francisco) 

May 7, 2013 3:43PM
And yet another reason why Americans must start thinking about rebuilding our own infrastructure.  Stop spending millions on useless wars.  Stop giving aid to countries who hate us, or plainly don't need it.  Stop being policeman of the world on our future!!  America FIRST!
May 7, 2013 1:13PM
I don't how Heathrow made the list, but that just goes to show, it's all a matter of opinion and like the old saying goes, "Opinions are like A**holes; everybody has one and they all stink!"
May 7, 2013 2:59PM

I fly extensively, and would ask that if anyone thinks there is bias or uniformed evaluators influencing the rating system, please fly to Incheon International, in South Korea.  The layout and architecture of this facility is fantastic.  Over the past 2 years, I have been in an out of Incheon 10 times and have only had good and pleasing experiences to report with the staff and facilities.  Upon arrival at Incheon, I've never waited on the tarmac for an aircraft to clear away from our assigned ramp.   And upon departure from Incheon, my plane is always #1 for take off.  The major US international HUBs like ATL, ORD, LAX, DFW, DEN and JFK are not entirely clean, or well organized, but more importantly, they and not well equipped for the volume of traffic that flows in an out of these airports.   US airport owners and managers need to go back to school to learn from their competitors in the Asian Pacific.  True, our major hubs are old, but they have good bones and could offer a much better experience to travelers if the owners and managers of these Airports made "customer satisfaction" their top goals.     

May 7, 2013 1:54PM
I would not have rated Munich above Zurich but well ahead of any American airport. As for Cincinnati, we had so many customs problems (poor quality/training of officers) we mandated any employees coming from Europe to land at any other airport even if it was closer. TSA at Denver is the worse I've seen, I saw them through a fellow on the floor because he had a small solid cast pistol ( <1") on his key chain. The worst security mess I've ever seen at Denver. My US list (International flights) SFO, IDA, ATL, LAX worst for any travel Denver, Detroit, Ft. Lauderdale, any in NYC/NJ.
May 7, 2013 3:04PM

New York Kennedy International Airport, The name is more impressive than the DUMP it really is!


Just getting off the plane and then going down the rickety old escalator which reminds one of the old Soviets Union's GUM stores; what is missing is a large sign welcoming to visitor to the socialist peoples republic of USA!

May 7, 2013 2:39PM

As a international traveler, I can tell you that the ridicules security levels at the US airports is over kill.  The bad guys scared us on 9/11, and by looking at the fuss over loosening the security a little with the small knife issue you can see we are still a country of cowards and afraid of there shadow.  Stop saying "As long as it keeps us safe"  that BS.


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