The US is home to some of the busiest airports in the world, and not all of them are created equal. When it comes to layovers, some are better than others. Here's a look at some of the best and worst US airports for connecting flights based on on-time performance, airport layout, amenities, and more.
5 Best US Airports for Connecting Flights
These airports have excellent on-time performance, easy-to-navigate terminals, and a wide range of amenities to make layovers more comfortable and enjoyable.
1. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)
With roughly 95 million passengers annually, ATL is the busiest airport in the world. This is partly due to its strategic location, efficient operations, and home base for Delta Airlines. Delta has an 81% on-time rate, providing stress-free travel for passengers with short layovers. Additionally, the airport has plenty of amenities, including shops, restaurants, and lounges, plus a Skytrain connecting passengers to terminals and concourses in no time.
2. Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)
DFW is a large and busy airport known for its efficiency and comfy leather armchairs at the gate. The airport has five terminals connected by a Skylink shuttle, which makes getting around easy. Passengers with long layovers can take advantage of DFW's plentiful shopping, dining, and entertainment options, including game rooms, spas, and lounges.
3. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA)
SEA is a modern and spacious airport known for its eco-friendliness and stunning views of the Pacific Northwest. You don't need to go through additional security checkpoints if you have a short layover for a domestic flight. It's also relatively easy to reach the South satellite terminal from the main terminal in minutes. Just take the terminal shuttle train, also known as the Yellow Loop, which runs every few minutes.
4. Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT)
CLT is a central hub for American Airlines, offering many connecting flights despite having only one terminal. Long layovers are painless, with a variety of dining and shopping options and "CLT Free WiFi" available for passengers. Compared to other major hub airports, such as Atlanta and Detroit, the main terminal at CLT is relatively small. It's possible to walk casually from one end of the terminal to the other in as little as 15 minutes.
5. Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW)
If you're traveling through Detroit Metro Airport, you'll be happy to know that it offers free WiFi, 24-hour restaurants, a spa-inspired "Reflection Room," and a kid's play area at McNamara Terminal. DTW also boasts an efficient snow-clearing operation to get you in the air as quickly as possible despite inclement weather. Additionally, the LED tunnel that connects concourses B/C and A (pictured above) is set to an original musical score, providing an enjoyable walking experience when moving between these concourses.
5 Worst US Airports for Connecting Flights
The following airports have been rated as some of the worst in the US for connecting flights due to their confusing layouts and signage, frequent cancellations, and unsanitary common areas.
1. Chicago O'Hare International Airport (ORD)
"Chicago Airport - ND0_5469" by Nicola, licensed under Flickr
ORD is a large and bustling airport, with four numbered passenger terminals from one to five, skipping number four entirely. While this isn’t terribly confusing, the airport's signage could be improved to make navigating between terminals and finding amenities easier for travelers. If you're connecting to an international flight, you'll need to go through security again. Considering the airport's high traffic and the distance to Terminal 5 (for international departures), you should allow at least two hours to give yourself enough time to reach your connecting gate.
2. Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)
EWR is one of the major airports in the New York metropolitan area, alongside JFK and La Guardia airports. Located in Newark, New Jersey, it serves as the main hub for United Airlines and has three terminals (A, B, and C). Although it offers numerous dining and shopping options, passengers have complained about the airport's outdated facilities, lack of cleanliness in some areas, and high prices for essential goods and services. Unfortunately, EWR also has one of the highest cancellation rates of any major US airport, which can cause significant inconvenience and frustration for travelers.
3. Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
LAX is infamously crowded and chaotic. The traffic around the airport can be unbearable at times. Its poor reputation for long security lines and flight delays add to the hassle of connecting flights. Hopefully, this will change for the better soon. City officials have invested over $30 billion in a modernization project to improve the airport's shortcomings and travel experience. The project is scheduled to finish in 2024. It’ll feature an automated people mover that'll transport passengers between the LAX terminals and three destinations outside the airport: long-term parking, a rental car facility, and a Metro C Line stop.
4. Miami International Airport (MIA)
MIA is one of the busiest airports in the United States, serving as a gateway to Latin America and the Caribbean. Although the city enjoys a vibrant nightlife, some travelers have complained that the airport's stores and restaurants close by 9 PM, leaving limited options for those with late flights. Moreover, travelers experienced nearly 1.5 million flight delays in 2022, according to the U.S. Transportation Bureau, more than the number of delays at JFK airport in New York City.
5. Denver International Airport (DEN)
With unique architecture and art installations, Denver Airport may look impressive. Still, its inclement weather and the long distance between gates (with some passengers reporting a 30-minute walk between terminals) make it one of the most challenging airports for domestic and international connections. Although the underground train shuttles passengers between gates A, B, and C, sometimes it's too full to board, leaving passengers waiting for the next one. That said, Denver Airport offers a great selection of restaurants, shops, and amenities, including free Wi-Fi and multiple outdoor patios, making the wait more enjoyable for travelers.
Tips for Navigating the Best and Worst US Airports for Layovers
It's important to note that even the best airports can experience delays and other issues, so it's always a good idea to plan for extra time during your layover. You can also use airport lounges or other amenities if you have a more extended layover, making your wait much more comfortable.
Additionally, consider booking your flights with the same airline or an airline that has a partnership with the airline you're using. This can help ensure that your connecting flights are well-coordinated and that you have the necessary time to make your connection.
Lastly, if you have concerns about your connecting flight, contact the airline's customer service team. They can provide updates on your flight status and help you make alternative arrangements if necessary. Downloading the airline's app can also provide real-time updates and allow you to change your itinerary directly from your phone.
By taking these steps and choosing a well-rated airport for your layover, you can help ensure a smoother and more enjoyable travel experience!
The Best Travel Gear for Your Connecting Flight
When it comes to traveling, having the right gear can make all the difference, especially during a connecting flight. Check out our ten best travel accessories for every destination, the best travel apps for every step of your journey, and more tips and tricks on the Gravel Travels blog.
Happy travels! 🌎✈️❤️