Date: October 15, 2014
North America has a wide range in terms of the quality of its airports – and during the winters, travellers tend to spend a bit more time in airports than they perhaps anticipate. Extreme weather patterns – including snow storms and hurricanes – too often derail departures and lead into the ‘ripple effect’ of mass delays and flight cancellations. Frazzled travellers stranded in airports as they try to reach warmer climates become a familiar sight.
As we enter into this blessed season, this list of the Worst Airports in North America is something you definitely want to pay attention to! Here, we flag those 10 airports that you’d be wise to avoid if at all possible. Dull, dated, unclean and/or downright confusing, these are airports you certainly don’t want to get stuck in. While the so-called winners span the continent, there is a strong concentration of unappealing airports located in the U.S. northeast, with all three of New York City’s airports represented. If you can’t avoid these airports, then we wish you luck on your travels and encourage you to bring blankets, pillows, earplugs and an excellent book to pass the time.
Here are the Top 10 Worst Airports in North America based on overall airport experience as determined by voters in our 2014 Airport Survey:
1. New York City LaGuardia International Airport, USA (LGA)
Once through security a beer is pretty much a necessity. But wait! No can do because the bar is on the other side. – a traveller
Poor LaGuardia consistently sits at the top of this not-so-coveted list. This worn out airport repeatedly makes it to the top of least favourite North American airports because of its security lines, drab décor, poor restaurant selection, lackluster cleanliness, counterintuitive layout and the notoriously unhelpful staff. While a departure from here is manageable, a delay here becomes the definition of mind numbing. Sleeping here is even less appealing, given that businesses shut down and the chairs all seem to have armrests and no cushion. This year, LGA’s reputation took one of its biggest hits to date with a slam from Vice-President Joe Biden himself who likened the facility to a “third world country”. We can only hope a refurbishment or total overhaul is in the not-so-distant future.
Airport Services/Facilities To Enjoy Your Layover: Wi-Fi ($). Visit our New York City LaGuardia Airport Guide for more information.
2. Los Angeles International Airport, USA (LAX)
Build one like Singapore Changi somewhere else. The current one was embarrassing 20 years ago and has become MUCH worse now. – a traveller
In addition to receiving the prize for second-worst airport in North America, LAX deserves a special mention for the sheer volume of unhappy comments it collected during the voting period. In spite of having opened a new terminal last year, the airport still sits in especially harsh contrast to the Asian airports its flights often connect with. Complaints generally revolve around the convoluted and unsigned layout, the lack of restaurants, activities and services for the layover traveller, and the general uncleanliness of the airport.
Airport Services/Facilities To Enjoy Your Layover: Free Wi-Fi. Visit our Los Angeles Airport Guide for more information.
3. Honolulu International Airport, USA (HNL)
Probably the worst airport I’ve ever attempted to sleep at. Loud music played throughout the night. It was about the same dozen Hawaiian songs on a loop. Nowhere comfortable to sleep. – SleepMaster5000
Honolulu’s airport is hardly the welcome to Hawaii that you might expect. A layover here is almost inevitable when visiting one of the Hawaiian Islands, and what gets travellers is that it is a basic and dull if you get stuck here for an extended period. There are only a handful of shops and restaurants, most of which close early. Some boarding gates don’t open until right before your flight, which leaves passengers roaming aimlessly in the concourse until that time. While seating can be a challenge with all the armrests and curved seats, a few long benches are a welcome relief to tired travellers. The airport does charge a fee for Wi-Fi as well, which is never particularly pleasing to travellers.
Airport Services/Facilities To Enjoy Your Layover: Wi-Fi ($) • Gardens. Visit our Honolulu Airport Guide for more information.
4. Newark Liberty International Airport, USA (EWR)
I got stranded overnight by a snowstorm over US Northwest coast. There were very limited spaces to sleep, almost no blankets distributed, the heating system was stopped and no free Wi-Fi. – a traveller
While the west coast of North America is home to most of the continent’s best airports – New York happens to house most of the worst. In spite of NYC being the heart of the East Coast, Newark Airport in New Jersey does little more than LaGuardia to attract visitors to the “Big Apple”. It too is a fairly unattractive construction with plenty of armrests and very chilly floors. Like LaGuardia, travelling through here is manageable – but when winter storms hit, delays here are certainly unpleasant. Located an hour and a half outside of Manhattan by public transit (an hour by private vehicle), returning to NYC is fairly unpractical. Instead, you’re stuck wandering in circles around one of its uninteresting terminals or, in a more likely scenario, coughing up the cash for a nearby and equally lackluster airport hotel.
Airport Services/Facilities To Enjoy Your Layover: Wi-Fi ($) • Hotel at Airport • 24 Hour Food Options ($). Visit our Newark Airport Guide for more information.
5. New York City John F. Kennedy International Airport, USA (JFK)
The far-flung terminals make it a nasty experience for the flier who is changing planes for an international flight. You have to leave the secure area and are stuck in an overcrowded, ill-designed chaos zone with no free Wi-Fi. Unsavory paid Wi-Fi often doesn’t function much better than dial-up. – a traveller
Rounding off the trifecta of sad New York City airports is JFK – a confusing behemoth that is difficult to avoid when travelling east. With eight terminals spread out over a large distance, navigating this airport between flights is a mission in and of itself. Once you finally find your terminal, the restaurants, shops and amenities are both limited and expensive. Sure, there is more to do in comparison to the NYC sister airports – but that is hardly an accomplishment. Couple that with notoriously seating-deprived terminals and you may be better off spending an extended layover in one of the lounges. The airport doesn’t even have an on-site hotel or napping rooms for those travellers who are actually willing to spend money to sleep.
Airport Services/Facilities To Enjoy Your Layover: Pay-per-use Lounges ($) • Wi-Fi ($) • Luggage Storage ($) • 24 Hour Food Options ($). Visit our New York City JFK Airport Guide for more information.
6. Philadelphia International Airport, USA (PHL)
The staff are fairly helpful, the only issue I have with this airport is the LINES!!! Both security and passport control are as slow as molasses…. seriously, a Boeing 777 just landed and only 4 or 5 lines open for passport control. – a traveller
Philadelphia’s airport is a generally mediocre place. Relative to the first five airports on this list, the amenities at PHL really are not so bad. After security, there is a decent variety of restaurants that all adhere to a street pricing policy, whereby they must match the prices charges outside the airport walls. Furthermore, the airport offers up free Wi-Fi, a virtual library and sleep suites. That said, what really irritates travellers at PHL is the long security queues. Couple that with some not-so-pleasant staff, and you’re sure to have enough unhappy people fly away from this airport. Furthermore, Philadelphia happens to be subject to its fair share of winter storms. The good news is that they do have blankets and pillows available for stranded travellers – so keep an eye out!
Airport Services/Facilities To Enjoy Your Layover: Free Wi-Fi • Hotel at the Airport ($) • Sleep Pods ($) • Library. Visit our Philadelphia Airport Guide for more information.
7. Miami International Airport, USA (MIA)
Cleaning staff was extremely rude. They vacuumed right up against us, going as far as almost bumping the vacuum cleaner against us where we were lying on the floor. – RNtravels
If travelling through Miami, be sure to give yourself ample time for your connection. With notoriously long security queues – and even queues to get into baggage claim – the connection process is anything but easy. The airport amenities do little to sooth the frustrated traveller following this experience either. There is a general lack of restaurants, shopping and activity options throughout. On the plus side, they do have therapy dogs in the terminals from time to time, in hopes that a little pat might reduce a bit of stress.
Airport Services/Facilities To Enjoy Your Layover: Pay-per-use Lounges ($) • Wi-Fi ($) • Hotel inside the Airport ($) • 24 Hour Food Options ($) • Luggage Storage ($). Visit our Miami Airport Guide for more information.
8. Cancun International Airport, Mexico (CUN)
Around midnight construction workers began to work with their pneumatic hammers until 6 in the morning right next to me, so it got pretty loud! – Fuchs
Most travellers don’t become displeased with their experience at Cancun International until they get home and notice their credit card statement. The prices for food and souvenirs at CUN are said to high (at least for the area), and the actual variety of shops and restaurants is quite limited. Beyond the prices, Cancun Airport is also criticized for being noisy into the wee hours and to be generally uncomfortable for sleeping (think armrests and no cushions). You’re also not going to find much here in the way of entertainment – and that includes that you will have to pay for Wi-Fi. That said, a few of the airport’s positives include that it is small, easy to navigate, relatively clean and offers a few lounges that you can pay to use.
Airport Services/Facilities To Enjoy Your Layover: Pay-per-use Lounges ($) • Wi-Fi ($). Visit our Cancun Airport Guide for more information.
9. Las Vegas McCarran International Airport, USA (LAS)
Seats all have armrests, continuous loud elevator music and slot machines make it impossible to sleep except for the convenient presence of a 24-hour bar. – a traveller
Maybe it is to be expected with it being Vegas and all – but this airport is one noisy welcome to the city. Slot machines, copious smoking lounges and a 24-hour bar set the tune for the city in which the airport is located – and this isn’t one that is especially conducive to sleep or relaxation. While there are a number of more subdued entertainment options, including a spa, a few art exhibits, a museum and a gym, its not quite enough to lull you to sleep. If you happen to be spending a couple of hours here, we’d recommend bringing a set of earplugs (or noise cancelling headphones) and a pillow so that you can get over the noise and the uncomfortable (and heavily armrest-ed) chairs. That, or embrace all that is chaotic and indulgent about Vegas!
Airport Services/Facilities To Enjoy Your Layover: Pay-per-use Lounges ($) • Free Wi-Fi • Aviation Museum • Fitness Center ($) • Luggage Storage ($) • Showers ($) • Gaming Machines. Visit our Las Vegas Airport Guide for more information.
10. Washington Dulles International Airport, USA (IAD)
Why, why, why do those shuttles between the main terminal and the departure terminals still exist? And why design the airport like that in the first place – makes no sense! – a traveller
As the larger and more convoluted one of two airports serving the American capital, IAD irritates travellers with its confusing and patchwork design of semi-adjoining terminals. Built in the 1950s and expanded in phases in the years following, the terminals are connected by a time-consuming shuttle service. Couple that with long security lines, a lack of signage, dated décor, confusing bag-check procedures for connecting flights and a strong likeliness for wintertime delays and you’re sure to find at least a few unhappy travellers. On the plus side, there is free Wi-Fi, mini-massage stations and a decent number of restaurants to keep you at least moderately entertained while you wait.
Airport Services/Facilities To Enjoy Your Layover: Free Wi-Fi. Visit our Washington Dulles Airport Guide for more information.
Air travel in North America isn’t all bad. Continue on to read about the Best Airports in North America winners!