As air travel rose this summer, satisfaction with airports declined

Photo (c) Stella Levi - Getty Images

J.D. Power says widespread labor shortages hit airports especially hard

Air travel, severely restrained during the early months of the pandemic, resumed over the spring and summer as more people received COVID-19 vaccinations. But acute labor shortages throughout airport facilities have made air travel more challenging.

The latest J.D. Power North American Airport Customer Satisfaction Survey found travelers’ complaints are on the rise. In nearly every case, consumers cite the lack of employees at gift shops, restaurants, and rental car counters in the airports.

Michael Taylor, travel intelligence lead at J.D. Power, says customer satisfaction with airports was very high in the midst of the pandemic. Most airports were far from crowded, and traveling seemed easier.

“Ultimately, the data conveys changing expectations among travelers,” Taylor said. “Early in the pandemic, passengers were satisfied with any shop or restaurant being open, but they now expect full service at the airport.”

Labor shortages appear to be the main driver of decreased satisfaction. An analysis of ConsumerAffairs reviews of rental car agencies at airports showed a common theme — the agencies were often shorthanded.

Long waits at the rental car counter

Mary, of Mishawaka, Indiana, encountered just such a situation when she reserved a car at Thrifty Car Rental at Boston’s Logan Airport earlier this month.

“When I arrived to pick up the car, the line was very long which was no problem because it is at a busy airport,” Mary wrote in a ConsumerAffairs review. “However, after waiting in line for more than 30 minutes, I finally was checked in and received the paperwork to go and get the car. “When I arrived at the garage to pick up the car, the line was out the door but there was no one there working.”

Many consumers reviewing other car rental agencies at other U.S. airports cite a similar experience. The J.D. Power survey found airport businesses, such as food, beverage, and retail services, are the keys to a good airport experience, just as much as a good airline experience.

In the latest survey,  Miami International and Louis Armstrong New Orleans International scored highest in the factor for food, beverage, and retail in their respective segments. 

The survey noted the labor shortage throughout North America has resulted in several airport dining and retail locations closing, a situation that J.D. Power says has disproportionally affected medium-sized airports.

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