Study Finds Americans Overwhelmingly Believe Improved Ground Transportation Links to Airports are Needed

March 6, 2017
A new HNTB America THINKS national public opinion survey found that more than nine in 10 Americans (93 percent) believe airport terminals could be better connected to the region’s ground transportation and transit networks.

As airports plan future improvements to enhance the air travel experience, they may want to look at what’s outside their front doors. A new HNTB America THINKS national public opinion survey found that more than nine in 10 Americans (93 percent) believe airport terminals could be better connected to the region’s ground transportation and transit networks.

The survey, “Airport Terminals -2017,” found that four in five (84 percent) Americans would use rail transit if it could get them to the airport and back more efficiently than by car. The survey also found that more than four in five believe parking (81 percent) and drop-off or pick-up curbs (81 percent) have either stayed the same or gotten worse in the past 10 years.

“Ground access to the airport terminal, the movement of automobile traffic, passenger pick-up/drop off and parking are factors that increasingly determine the quality of the air travel experience,” said Laddie Irion, HNTB’s national aviation sector market leader and senior vice president. “The interest in public transit access to airports is very strong. In planning for improvements, airport authorities should consider partnering with transit agencies to create the public transportation access that travelers seek. They should also recognize that facilitating ease of movement in and around airport terminals along with the amenities found within the terminal building are factors that directly affect the quality and satisfaction of the air travelers’ experience.”

Waiting equates to hating when it comes to airports

According to the survey, nearly all (97 percent) Americans find something frustrating about air travel, and a third (34 percent) feel waiting in lines at the airport is the most unsatisfying aspect. However, other than lines, there are relatively low levels of frustrations about many aspects of air travel.

Airport security in particular seems to cause the most pain points. More than three in five (62 percent) feel the security process at their most frequently used airport is time consuming. And again, it’s waiting that causes the most irritation with 28 percent of air travelers reporting that time spent in line is the part of the security checkpoint process they generally dislike most. Having to get their belongings ready for security without assistance (21 percent) or having to go through body-scanning X-ray or pat down (15 percent) rounded out the top three.

“We are all well aware of the need for robust airport security, but there are opportunities to make the process more comfortable such as flooring that is comfortable for passengers without shoes, soothing and comfortable lighting, and creating a pleasant area for passengers to re-compose themselves after completing the screening process,” said Irion.

Biggest desired areas of improvement

Among those who feel something needs to be improved at airports, more than three in five (61 percent) believe TSA security check-in points need to be revamped. And nearly two in five (37 percent) of Americans who travel by air believe upgrading security should be airports’ top priority. Other areas which need attention include: passenger check-in (46 percent), departure gate lobbies (37 percent), drop-off or pick-up curbs (36 percent) and parking (33 percent).

Technology’s Role

Evolving technology may be the answer for some. GPS-enabled tags embedded in luggage that link it to the owner appeal to 45 percent of Americans. Forty-three percent believe advanced technologies allowing pilots and air traffic controllers to more effectively manage the reliability of flight schedules would improve the travel experience. More than a third (34 percent) believe technology that helps with self-serve bag tagging and the check-in process would benefit them as an air traveler and improve their experience. And one-third would appreciate mobile apps allowing them to order and pay for in-flight food which would be waiting for them on the aircraft.


Most Americans do not look forward to their time at the airport. The majority (56 percent) would describe airport terminals as stressful, and more than two in five feel they are frustrating (42 percent) or exhausting (42 percent).

On the positive side, one in five (21 percent) describe airport terminals as efficient; 18 percent say they are fun; 11 percent, relaxing; and 7 percent say they are luxurious.

“In this day and age, air travelers confront never-before-seen challenges, but with a comprehensive focus on customer experience, airport authorities have the opportunity to effectively meet today’s needs in a manner that also anticipates the future,” Irion said.