‘Are They Crazy? San Diego the Nation’s ‘Best’ Airport?

by on August 8, 2019 · 12 comments

in Ocean Beach, San Diego

Perhaps the writers for a popular travel guide have just been at high altitudes for too long, or maybe they’ve lounged around in airport restaurants for too long, but somehow they have just declared that the “best airport” in the country is the San Diego International Airport.

Holy guacamole! Are you freaking kidding?

San Diego the best airport in the entire good ol US of A?

But this is what has happened. A new study of the best and worst airports around the country has just been completed by The Points Guy travel website, and yeah, they say – based on a myriad of factors of course – that we have the best.

The second-best is Phoenix Sky Harbor International and the worst is Chicago’s Midway International with – according to TPG – Orlando International the second-worst.

The study evaluated the 50 busiest airports in the US and used 34 factors to judge them on, like “flight delays, cancellations, security wait times, parking fees, public transportation, ride-hailing prices, restaurants and lounges.”

The researchers “painstakingly pored over a wider range of elements that help make a site more sustainable or that show that an airport tries to maintain a deep connection to the community it serves.” That sounds like our Airport doesn’t it? Sure it does – you know how they’ve listened intently to the communities the airport serves, like providing us with a trolley that goes up to the gates – oh, snap! It’s only plans for one – and how long has San Diego had trolleys?

The researchers say that by using traffic-analytics experts and US Department of Transportation databases, they’ve figured out travel time to the airports and how often flights were on time.

TPG has been doing these studies for years, but this year they admitted they increased “the emphasis on airport amenities, reasoning that that’s the area that airports have the most control over.” Now – there’s a clue. San Diego offers 38 dining options – wow, which the evaluators think is “amazing for such a small airport.” In comparison, Orlando International only offers 14 restaurants. Shame on them! No wonder they’re the second worst.

The weather plays an important part too. Our good weather means more flights are on time. Back east airports have snow to contend with and Florida has thunderstorms that throw airlines off kilter.

Another big factor for the study is “commute time”. Sure tourists and convention-goers love the proximity of our airport to downtown. But, hey, what about the residents? How do County residents feel about the airport’s location and how long it takes to get there? Ask a North County resident how they feel about travel time to the airport.

There are other factors to consider, other than how long it takes for tourists to get to the loading zone or how great all the food is (like, what about how expensive the airport food is – which is notorious for being pricey).

Here’s another factor: safety and danger. How safe or dangerous are the airports? Were they studied for these elements?

San Diego – as locals know – is one of the most dangerous airports for pilots to land in. We’ve known for years that one of the big reasons we’ve never had a major accident here is because the pilots are white-knuckling the landing as it’s so dangerous and close to high buildings and parking lots and mountains.

Yeah, ask the pilots which are the best airports? I think they’d laugh in your face if you suggested San Diego.

Oh, and don’t even bring up noise – don’t mention the “OB Pause”. Don’t study the impacts of the airports on surrounding communities, oh no – don’t allow that to be a factor.

At any rate, we think the study stinks – it’s designed for out-of-state travelers, not the residents who may use the airports.

At any rate, here’s who TPG says are the Top 12 U.S. airports :

1. San Diego
2. Phoenix
3. Portland, Oregon
4. Atlanta
5. Sacramento
6. Seattle
7. San Francisco
8. San Jose
9. Indianapolis
10. Santa Ana, California
11. Dallas/Fort Worth
12. Miami

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

bobo August 8, 2019 at 1:49 pm

I hate to be a dissenting opinion but I actually agree with these findings. The rates of delayed flights in/to SAN are very low, the access to downtown is perfect and the airport’s on-site amenities are great. Using the criteria they used, I agree.
There are airports all over the USA that are horrible when in comparison. It’s all relative I guess…


tennyson August 8, 2019 at 2:39 pm

I would tend to agree if “best” is not fixed but is in comparison to other airports but now I see Seattle is on the “best” list as well and after trudging through SeaTac many times last year on family business (yes I have been through O’Hare) I’d vote the Seattle airport the worst ever, bar none thus the survey just lost all credibility with me.


Tom August 8, 2019 at 3:39 pm

I do think San Diego has a great airport. Parking is close and I usually dont have any problems getting to or from the airport from East county. The terminals are easy to get around and have different food offerings. I have never been to an airport that the food isn’t expensive. Flights are usually on time and its an easy time finding transpto and from if needed. Security isnt usually that long and employees are helpful with many boards throughout to show departures and arrivals. Ive flown a decent amount domestic and international and it is one of the better ones in my opinion.


Justin August 8, 2019 at 8:59 pm

This article names several items it finds wrong with the San Diego airport, but doesn’t mention any airports that are better. I travel frequently (about 15 round trip flights a year), and have to say that my experience at the SD airport is generally pretty seamless, especially for being an airport in a major city. Btw, I choose to live in OB , and I think most people who live here choose to live here, despite the noise from the planes. I would suggest the author have a follow up article that lists 5 airports that are better than San Diego’s and reasons for it.


Michael August 9, 2019 at 12:26 am

SAN is a pretty good airport. The article is written in the view of a traveler and we have good weather which equates to predicable flights.

The lounge situation could be improved, but overall, not a bad airport.

Here’s my list from Good to Bad:
John Wayne
Houston Hobby



Frank Gormlie August 9, 2019 at 12:21 pm

Thanks for your input Michael. I was at the John Wayne decades ago and it was a little more than an airplane hangar – I guess there’s been an upgrade?


Will August 9, 2019 at 6:40 am

One thing we have going for us is that we’re an “end of the line” airport. There are few connecting flight so there aren’t gads of people waiting around for another flight, plugging up the airport.

And you can’t beat our flying weather. About the only weather hold we suffer is coastal fog once in a long while.

The best part of the airport? As a retired old guy, I don’t fly by choice, unless it’s really really really important. Like going to Hawaii for vacation. :-)


Vern August 9, 2019 at 12:20 pm

SAN is pretty good. It’s small, compact and it’s not a place you really want to spend too much time. Geez, it’s a little airport terminating at a tourist destination for heaven sakes. Land and leave.
SAN is, however, a bad neighbor (see FAA’s NextGen).
LAX on the other hand is a great place for arriving and departing internationally, it’s frenetic and a great place to people-watch (and you can be at McCabe’s Guitar Shop within 25 minutes on a rough day). Heck, its LA after all.
LAX, however, is becoming a bad neighbor as well. (see FAA’s NextGen).


Frank Gormlie August 9, 2019 at 12:23 pm

I appear to be the dissenter if you look at these comments. But nobody has addressed my main concerns:
1. how dangerous the airport is;
2. the lack of the spirit of cooperating with local neighborhoods;
3. commute time for County residents;


Will August 10, 2019 at 6:28 am

OK Frank, my two cents:

1: No fatal crashes at the airport as far as I remember, only the North Park crash which could have happened at any other airport. That crash was a problem with terminal control, not the physical layout of our airport.

2. Cooperation with local neighborhoods? Not sure what that is. You mean takeoff paths? I’ll leave takeoff path determination to the experts. I’m 65 and a life-long peninsula resident. My first house I bought in 1975 was right under the takeoff flight path. I’m still only a 1/2 mile from the center line of the takeoff path. Aircraft noise has dropped significantly since the Stage 1 jets went away 20 years ago. And the airport authority has spent tons of cash noise proofing houses in the flight path. What more do you want the airport to do? BTW, we all paid for those soundproofing jobs for expensive Point Loma houses that people voluntarily purchased under the flight path though our ticket prices.

3. Commute time? If the airport is moved, some folks will have a longer drive, some folks will have a shorter drive. From a vehicle pollution standpoint, doesn’t it make more sense to have the airport as close to the population center as possible?


Vern August 12, 2019 at 9:26 am

Many purchased homes out of the flight path but now find themselves in or much nearer the flight path(s), which have changed considerably since 2015. Departures leave at lower altitudes and are, subsequently, louder – see the inverse square law.
Air carriers should leave Lindbergh at an angle of between 20 and 25 degrees. The sharp departure will get air carriers higher, faster, over the homes, schools and houses of worship below.
It’s what’s called a noise abatement takeoff, to be a good neighbor to the surrounding communities.


Elise February 16, 2020 at 10:23 am

I couldn’t agree more. Worst airport I’ve ever been too. If you arrive internationally, and have a connecting flight, you must exit the building and walk ALL of luggage outside the length of the airport to then recheck it again and go through security all over again after walking the length of the airport outdoors!!!! WTF?!? Even Sacramento has a fast monorail that shuttles people between terminals. Gimme a break! This is a joke. Step it up San Diego.


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