20 Best U.S. Airports for Tech Travelers
Top 20 Tech-Friendly Airports: #1 to #4
How do the airports that you visit most frequently stack up? Consult the best airports chart for a detailed look at the tech amenities offered at the 40 largest airports in the country. And for highlights of the tech top 20, read on, starting below.
#1 Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport (DFW)
DFW doesn't have the most outlets, it doesn't have the fastest Wi-Fi, and it's not number one in work desks. But no other airport achieves such consistently high scores across so many categories. Dallas ranked near the top of all airports on six of the eight tech amenities that we measured.
As evidenced by the older ethernet port installations at 16 gates throughout the airport, Dallas-Ft. Worth has been serving tech-savvy passengers for longer than most U.S. airports. These days, wired ethernet ports are giving way to Wi-Fi access points and cellular amplifiers, to meet the needs of passengers who want to be connected and mobile. DFW's paid Wi-Fi service (through T-Mobile) produced respectable speeds in our tests, averaging 2.73 mbps for downloads airport-wide. The airport's cellular signal wasn't bad either: Verizon and T-Mobile clocked average download speeds of 4 mbps; AT&T averaged 3 mbps; and Sprint averaged 1 mbps.
DFW has benefited greatly from partners like Samsung, whose 64 charging stations, seven "mobile travel lounges," "power stations" (work stations with power outlets), and large flat-screen TVs are ubiquitous in the airport.
Augmented by the extra Samsung outlets, DFW boasts an average of 7.2 electrical outlets and 3.0 USB ports per gate. A fair number of internet kiosks and work desks (with outlets and USB ports) are scattered among the gates, too.
#2 New York JFK International (JFK)
Only a few years ago, it was nearly impossible to find an outlet at JFK. But more recently the airport has added numerous useful amenities, such as desks and counters with outlets, to some--but not all--of its terminals. JFK Terminals 2 and 3 (thanks in part to Delta) and Terminal 5 (thanks in part to JetBlue) offer the largest number of work surfaces and electrical outlets, as well as decent free Wi-Fi. Other JFK terminals look old and dull, with tech amenities to match. Your best option in those terminals is to buy Boingo wireless service or use your own cellular signal.
JFK's new Terminal 5, which opened in 2008 at a cost of $800 million, is spectacular. T5 is JetBlue's new primary U.S. hub, but it's more than an airport terminal. It's a glossy-looking cultural center filled with cool shops, upscale restaurants that look like clubs, and over-the-top architectural design; concerts are sometimes held there.
JFK Terminals 2 and 3 host some upscale restaurants, a few of which will take your order from an iPad kiosk in the gate area and bring your food out to you. Delta and its restaurant management partner OTG installed these iPads--more than 180 of them--which anyone can use to check email, surf the Web, and order food. Next to each one is an electrical outlet equipped with USB ports for charging your devices as you sit there. Sadly, the iPad kiosks have become so popular that finding an open one during peak traveling hours can be difficult.
Plans are in the works to expand the number of iPad kiosks and tables at Delta's JFK operations significantly in the next few years. OTG spokesperson Sean Aziz says the company plans to put the next wave of public iPads on tethers, so that users can hold the device in their hands and interact with the content more easily.
#3 Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)
Atlanta is the busiest and the largest (170 gates) airport in the United States. Consequently, supplying passengers with power, workspaces, and Wi-Fi at all its gates is a massive undertaking. But Atlanta's airport authority seems to have risen to the challenge in recent years.
The airport ranked quite high among US airports in the number of passenger-facing outlets it offers at the gates. Only San Francisco, Sacramento, and New York JFK offer more per gate. Some of the credit for ATL's tech-friendliness goes to Delta, for which Atlanta is a major hub. Delta flies out of five of the six terminals at Hartsfield-Jackson and has installed multiple freestanding charging stations (three two-plug outlets and two USB ports) in all of them. The electrical outlets in the walls and poles of the airport facility itself, combined with those on the Delta stations, comes to a total of 1377 outlets, an average 8.1 per gate.
The airport has also invested in providing workspaces for working travelers. Clusters of 4, 8, 10, and 12 "recharge stations"--cubicle desks with power outlets--occupy 19 locations throughout the airport. They're perfect for business travelers who need to get some work in--and charge their devices--before taking off on their flight. We counted a total of 240 powered workspaces throughout the terminals at ATL.
Hartsfield-Jackson is also trying its hand at the mobile rewards business. It recently announced a program to allow passengers to scan QR codes on advertisements around the airport with smartphones to receive food, beverage, and retail discounts from restaurants and shops in the airport.
#4 Detroit Metro Airport (DTW)
Detroit Metro Airport's newest facility, the three-year-old North Terminal, was built from the ground up with the needs of device-carrying passengers in mind. "We planned from the beginning to wire each gate area so that we would provide numerous power outlets throughout the facility for customers to use," says DTW spokesman Scott Wintner. Apparently, the effort succeeded: We counted an average 6.7 outlets per gate at Detroit Metro.
"We also worked with Southwest Airlines in particular to accommodate their request for even more power outlets in its three gate areas, including USB outlets not yet found elsewhere in the North Terminal," Wintner says. Southwest has installed many of its between-chair charging stations, which house an electrical outlet and two USB ports, in the North Terminal, home to the Southwest gates. In fact, 110-volt outlets and USB charging ports can be found at almost every chair.
Delta has been another major tech sponsor at Detroit Metro, working with the airport to install Delta-branded charging stations equipped with three electrical outlets and two USB ports apiece. Each Delta gate at DTW has up to six of these charging stations.
Wi-Fi service at DTW (provided by Boingo) is respectable; we clocked average download speeds of 2.5 mbps in our tests. Boingo also provides data ports at hourly, daily, or monthly rates throughout the airport--offering a guaranteed connection if the wireless falters.