You think airports are crowded now? Just wait.
More than 1.6 billion people world- wide fly annually on business or leisure trips, according to the International Air Transport Assn., an industry group based in Montreal that represents 270 airlines. By 2010, its research suggests, that number could exceed 2.3 billion.
Airlines are anticipating this surge by ordering new aircraft, but places to land them are slower to develop. As a result, airports will be more crowded. But you can take steps to make your entry point into the world of flying more pleasant.
For example, if you're not happy about flying out of LAX, the fifth-busiest airport in the world, consider one of the smaller area airports such as Burbank or Long Beach.
That's just one of the conclusions that can be drawn from a recent survey on airport satisfaction from J.D. Power and Associates, a Westlake Village-based consumer research firm.
LAX scored 614 points on a 1,000-point scale of satisfaction, below the average 651 points for airports that carry more than 30 million passengers per year. Criteria include time to get through check-in and security as well as availability of amenities such as restaurants, business centers and shopping. (The best rating for this size airport was 730 for Hong Kong.)
Long Beach and Burbank scored 696 and 695, respectively; 693 was the average score for small airports (those that carry fewer than 10 million passengers per year).
In Europe, passenger traffic has grown about 20% at smaller airports in just the last two years, according to the Airports Council International, a professional association of airport operators representing 450 airports in 45 countries. The trend stems partly from the proliferation of low-cost carriers and their penchant for smaller airports. Overall, European passenger traffic increased 7% in 2004 from 2003 and is expected to double by 2020.
"Despite the cumulative impact of 9/11, SARS and the war in Iraq, we are involved in a growth industry," said Roy Griffins, director general of ACI Europe. "There will be serious congestion at many of our larger airports over the next few years. New runways and terminals are the only way to accommodate future demand."
China leads the world in air passenger growth, with a projected 12.5% annual increase in passenger traffic, according to the international air association. It's joined by Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, which each expect at least 9% annual growth between now and 2008.
As air passenger traffic continues to soar, airports around the globe are investing billions in new and improved facilities. Here's a look at airport infrastructure improvement projects you may encounter:
Los Angeles International: The airport is hoping that spring will bring news of federal approval for an overhaul that would include realigning runways, extending the MTA Green Line to the airport, a new ground transportation center, a reworked international terminal, an automated people-mover system and consolidated rental-car facilities. It would enable LAX to accommodate about 79 million annual passengers, compared with 67.3 million in 2000, its busiest year. The revamp would not be completed until 2015.
San Francisco: A $2.6-billion construction program was completed at San Francisco International Airport in 2003 and includes a new 2.5-million-square- foot international terminal, an automated people-mover, new entrance roadways and parking facilities, a consolidated rental-car center, a BART subway station that can whisk passengers into the city and the world's first fully accredited museum in an airport. The museum, which is free, features galleries throughout the airport displaying art, history, science and cultural exhibits as well as a permanent collection on the history of commercial aviation.
Atlanta: Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International is building two underground facilities to electronically screen checked baggage. This should help reduce congestion by removing the large screening machines from the lobbies. It is scheduled to be completed by year's end.
Baltimore: Baltimore/Washington International Airport is in the middle of a $1.8-billion improvement and expansion program. By last spring, it had added more than 10,000 parking spaces and a new rental-car facility. A new concourse is scheduled to open this spring, and widening of roadways into, out of and around the airport is scheduled to be completed in 2006.
Chicago: Chicago O'Hare International Airport's proposed $6.6-billion modernization program would align its intersecting runways to reduce delays in all weather conditions and increase capacity. It also would add a new western terminal connected to O'Hare's main terminal by an automated people-mover system. The plan is still in review, but it is expected to be approved in September with a completion date of 2013.