Here Are The Worst Airports in the US. Is Yours One of Them?

Vice President Joe Biden thinks New York LaGuardia is a national embarrassment.

It’s home to a new American Express Centurion lounge. Terminal C is much-improved, and the new US Airways club there is no longer the worst airline lounge in North America. The Marine Air Terminal, home to Delta’s Shuttle to DC, is super easy in and out (and the other terminals aren’t bad in this regard). Plus it’s close-in to Manhattan, I’ve frequently left midtown after 3pm and had no problem gliding onto the US Airways Shuttle to DC at 4.

No, the truly worst airports in the US feature long travel distances to their respective city centers, are difficult to navigate especially for connections, and are often dilapidated as well.

Here are my six worst airports in the US.

  1. Miami There’s very little redeeming about this airport. There are long walks inside of terminals, long walks to the train out to the rental car center, and insanely long walks to immigration. The lines for customs are absurd (but then I suppose they figure everyone coming into the airport is smuggling cocaine?). Security lines are quite random, and I’ve seen TSA PreCheck closed when it should have been open. Check-in lines are long as well, delayed by the volume of baggage being checked.

    worst airports in the US

  2. Los Angeles. LAX isn’t just awful for connecting between terminals, it is awful for ground transportation. Getting in and out of the airport is tough, shuttles can easily take 15-20 minutes at peak times just transiting the various terminals.

  3. New York JFK. Some terminals are worse than others of course. Terminal 2, Delta’s C gates, is probably the best remaining example of the ‘old’ JFK. I actually like terminal 7 and its short walks. This is an awful connecting airport. It is an awful airport for transportation, having to take the Airtrain to get to the stop where you can pick up transportation shuttles (always fun with luggage). And it’s a schlepp from downtown.

    worst airports in the US

    worst airports in the US

    worst airports in the US

    worst airports in the US

    worst airports in the US

  4. Washington Dulles. It is a very bad airport. They don’t use the moon buggies anymore to get between all terminals, but the new airport train drops off United passengers where they’ve wanted to build a new terminal for decades rather than where the passengers will fly out of. They’re building metro and in a few years it should be kind of sort of connecting via public transport to the rest of the city. But a single taxi company has a legal monopoly, meaning it’s tough to get picked up by anyone else and it means twice the cab trips (those cabs drive into the city and return empty, while all other cabs go to the airport and can’t efficiently pick up passengers and take them back to the city). That’s a terrible environmental decision. Plus immigration queues can be nightmares.

    worst airports in the US

    worst airports in the US

  5. Chicago O’Hare. It’s certainly bad connecting international-to-domestic. Immigration queues can back up hours-long. And Chicago weather can prove challenging at times. I actually like it, though, when weather isn’t cancelling or delaying flights. American’s terminal is reasonably compact, so good for making connections. And you’ve got Tortas Frontera sandwiches.

    worst airports in the US

  6. Atlanta. The walks between terminals, the distance from the international terminal to the domestic ones (although international flights arriving concourse E are better for connecting). Delta is running probably the best airline operation in the U.S., but their primary hub isn’t keeping pace.

There was a time that Newark would make this list, but I think it’s gotten better. It’s still not my preferred place to fly in and out of New York from. And it suffers from New York airspace congestion as the other two area airports do. But I don’t think it’s in the top 6 of bad.

Denver gets an honorable mention for distance from the city center, but isn’t in this league of bad.

Overall, the worst airports seem to be in the biggest cities. That’s not an accident.

  • They’re legacy airports, these cities have been major transportation hubs for decades.
  • As major cities they’re super-congested.
  • Building projects can be difficult, not just because of availability of surrounding land but also because of local politics.

While JFK’s terminals themselves have been improving (Delta’s 2013 JFK renovation is quite good and the American Airlines terminal is bright and modern albeit too sprawling without much decent food) it would take truly starting over — not in the cards — to make it right there. Meanwhile, Miami has been practically re-done as it is, isn’t really better, and is already too costly to operate at. I don’t see these airports making more than incremental improvement, although LAX’s Bradley terminal itself is better than it used to be. They’ll no doubt dump billions into special projects to try, but the fundamentals there are runways, airspace, terminal connectivity, and ease of transportation — problems that are more intractable than simply refreshing a terminal and improving the lounges and bathrooms.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. For O&D travel, LAX is not awful if you game it. TBIT is gorgeous, Terminal 6 (Delta) is amenity-laden, and it’s a quick drive to the majority of areas you’d be visiting in L.A.

    IAD is a pain in the ass to get to, but again on an O&D basis if you’re not flying United, it’s improved dramatically. The moon buggies were the worst, but the train is efficient and easy, the dining options great, and the wait times for baggage have been reduced a great deal, too.

    I’ve flown through MIA on Delta, not American, and I didn’t have bad memories of it. But those I know who flew AA loathed it.

    Was just in MSY this past weekend and it’s actually really terrific, at least Concourse D, which is spacious, well lit, and easy to navigate. The rental car situation is one of the easiest I’ve seen, and it’s not very far from the city at all.

    Count me among the few who’d like to ding DFW: while the short walks from gate to curb and the Centurion Lounge are a huge plus, the airport itself is depressing, and moreso if you’re in terminal E (everyone else but AA), and it’s a long, long slog to Dallas.

  2. I live in South FLa so I fly out of MIA a decent amount because of AA direct flights to vegas etc. I also fly out of FLL which is closer to me. MIA is better than it used to be. At least I can get somethng to eat other than a churro. I am happy to even have a Wendy’s there now. I was walking thorough a year or two ago with my business partner after a flight and complained something about MIA being screwed up. A janitor said you got it right. He said he works at MIA for 20 year sand they do the same stupid things :-). Seriously JFK sucks. I had to schep bags form domestic outside to the international terminal. That stinks. LGA is better than it used to be. I was in MSP a few weeks ago. What a walk to get to my connecting flight. Atlanta stinks when you have to cross the entire airport for International. I like ORD better than Gary. PHL is not an exciting place. Anchorage airport has charm like the moose in the lobby and empty rental car counters.PBI is a small airport but they often are screwed up worse than MIA for security/TSA. Those guys are idiots. LAX stinks and I dont see such a great assortment of food as was stated in those articles. AT least I can get to INN and Out burger though. SEA is fun when you have to go through the Alaska air terminal 5 miles to get to those few Delta gates they have there. I wonder how many people go to the Delta terminal and end up missing their flights.

  3. The walk from E gates to immigration is HORRIBLE. No matter the cheerleaders, art work etc it is the absolute worst for a senior, passengers with babies or children or the disabled. The new terminal is a waste of money for those walking. What a waste!

    I will, if possible, try arriving somewhere else from an international trip.

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