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Toronto Pearson ranked second-worst for largest North American airports in overall satisfaction

Toronto Pearson International Airport is ranked the second-worst largest airport in the continent for overall traveller satisfaction.

According to J.D. Power’s annual North American Airport Satisfaction study, Canada’s busiest airport ranked 20th out of 21 mega-sized airports across North America, scoring 749 out of 1,000. Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey came in last.

This score factors in six components, and in order of importance according to the survey: terminal facilities, airport arrivals and departures, baggage claim, security check, check-in and baggage check, and food, beverage and retail service are all considered. The study was conducted between August 2022 and July 2023, where 27,147 travellers across North America – who flew through at least one U.S. or Canadian airport covering both departure and arrival experiences – responded to the survey.

“There’s an inverse correlation between the number of passengers that access an airport and their satisfaction while they’re at the airport,” Michael Taylor, J.D. Power’s travel intelligence leader, told CTV News Toronto in an interview Wednesday, adding the influx of passengers at Toronto Pearson between 2022 and 2023 contributed to the airport’s low score.

In 2022, Toronto Pearson ranked 16th out of 20 mega-sized airports on the same survey.

“(With) that many more passengers, it’s really hard to keep people happier. It’s just hard to increase your score, so that’s really what is driving the lack of satisfaction at Pearson.”

Taylor pointed to crowds and longer wait times as other contributing factors to the Toronto airport’s score.

“This is one of the few times that North Americans have a really hard deadline … you’re two hours late for a flight, you got real problems and so that stresses people out,” Taylor said. “So, when they come into an airport facility and see a crowd of people, it does tend to lower their satisfaction, they tend not to do the things they would normally do, like shop or eat or drink.”

According to the study, Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport and Las Vegas’ Harry Reid International Airport were among the top three mega airports. No other Canadian airport cracked the mega-airport list, but Calgary International Airport ranked highest for large airports, placing 10th out of 27.

“I think Toronto, Montreal, even Vancouver have slipped, they really haven’t done much to kind of raise their responsiveness to customer complaints. They’ve managed to keep their heads above water compared to summer of 2022,” Faculty lecturer at McGill University’s supply networks and aviation management program, John Gradek, told CTV News Toronto Wednesday. Last summer, Toronto Pearson was named the world’s worst airport for flight delays for a period of time.

Gradek notes that, comparatively to airports in the U.S., Canadian airports lack the funding to improve its facilities due to differing financial governance structures where airlines invest in airport facilities.

“My view is that Canadian airports are going to keep falling further, and further behind, not only in the North American context … but overall around the world,” Gradek said. “We need to basically change the business model and the governance structure w have for airports to free up some cash in order for the airports to basically catch up to the rest of the world’s new airports. 

A graph of all of the largest North American airports, ranked in order of overall customer satisfaction. (J.D. Power)

The study notes overall satisfaction is still down across North America since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, when significantly fewer passengers were travelling. Of the respondents, about 60 per cent say they experienced severe or moderate crowding within the terminal, which is two per cent higher than last year.

“While we are disappointed with the results, the GTAA has been working non-stop with airlines, agencies, and other partners to improve and streamline the passenger experience since last year’s restart,” Sean Davidson of the Greater Toronto Airports Authority told CTV News Toronto in an emailed statement.

The GTAA pointed to recent polling from Pollara Strategic Insights, conducted on its behalf, which revealed more positive feedback from travellers who recently flew through Toronto Pearson.

"Despite news coverage of airport lineups last summer and winter storm delays over the holidays, most Canadians who have travelled through Pearson feel good about their experience," Dan Arnold, Pollara’s Chief Strategy Officer, said in a news release.

Throughout the year, this data shows 75 per cent of passengers reported being satisfied with their travel experience at Toronto Pearson, and 78 per cent said the same within the last 90 days.

Among the 2,032 adult respondents surveyed from Aug. 29 to Sept. 7 this year, 38 per cent of Canadians feel more positive about the airport, which is about four times more than those who view the airport negatively.

The data also shows that those who hadn’t travelled through Toronto Pearson within the last year are more likely to give the airport a lower score, as 57 per cent of respondents who have recently been at the airport provided a seven-out-of-10 rating or higher compared to 32 per cent of respondents who hadn’t. Top Stories

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