retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

At a time when airline travel seems to be more problematic than ever - at least in part because major airlines have merged and now are doing everything they can to squeeze every bit of profit they can out of travelers with a sardine can-like experience and costly fee structures that soak their customers - it appears that at least one facet of such travel is improving.

The part that takes place ob=n the ground.

United Press International reports that a new JD Power study says that "a major cultural shift" seems to have occurred, with airports improving their part of the experience to the extent that "travelers who passed through U.S. airports in 2015 may be the most satisfied they've ever been."

According to the story, "Researchers said the survey, conducted between July and October, focused on six factors -- terminal facilities, airport accessibility, security, baggage claim, check-in/baggage check, and retail amenities. And the report indicates travelers are happier than ever with their experiences in those elements." The airports that have responded to consumers' desire for a better experience "by offering a variety of food, beverage, merchandise, and other attractive services and amenities are realizing significant gains in overall customer satisfaction."

The UPI story goes on to say that "Among large U.S. airports, Portland International Airport was rated the highest with an overall score of 791 out of 1,000. Tampa International was second (776) and McCarran International in Las Vegas (759) third. Orlando and Salt Lake City rounded out the top five.

"Among medium-sized airports, Dallas Love Field and Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers tied for the No. 1 spot -- each with a score of 792. Indianapolis (789), Raleigh-Durham, N.C., (789) tied for third and Jacksonville, Fla., (787) was fifth.

The worst-rated medium-sized airport was Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, which received a score of 698. The lowest-rated large-sized airport was New Jersey's Newark-Liberty International Airport, with a score of 646. Chicago's O'Hare and Los Angeles' LAX -- the third- and second-busiest airports in the United States -- also scored in the bottom five with 680 and 670, respectively."

And while it is not mentioned in the UPI story, I checked and - no surprise - the hell hole known as LaGuardia Airport in New York City is the second worst rated large airport in the country.

The JD Power study also mentions the things that seem to make the biggest difference to consumers, like a speedy and efficient security setup, and clean gates. And while "ample electric outlets" does make the list of required amenities, free and speedy wi-fi does not ... which surprises me.

One of the interesting things about this is that most airports don;t face competition ... it isn't like if you are flying from one place to another that you have a lot of choices. And it isn't like most customers have other travel options ... the majority of travelers can't choose between air, rail and car travel when making their plans.

But still, the airports seem to realize that turning their facilities into compelling, entertaining, option-rich experiences makes sense, especially if they want to grow their broader sales and profits.

I often travel between New York (using either LaGuardia or Newark) and Portland, Oregon ... and there is no question that one end seems like it belongs in the third world, while the other actually seems like it belongs in the 21st century. (It helps in Portland that the light rail system runs right to the airport; one can walk out of the airport, hop on a train and be downtown in about 30 minutes for $2.50.)

There is, I think, an Eye-Opening lesson here for retailers ... that they should never underestimate the importance of the actual experience. It needs to be efficient, but it also often will perform even better if it is effective and entertaining and even aspirational.
KC's View: