Raleigh-Durham International Airport ranked third in North America for large airports in customer service, according to a Sept. 22 announcement from analytics and consumer intelligence company J.D. Power.
RDU ranked behind Tampa International Airport, which came in second, and Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, which was ranked first.
The study ranked customer satisfaction with mega, large and medium airports based on terminal facilities, airport arrival/departure, baggage claim, security check, check-in/baggage check and food, beverage and retail. Large airports have 10 to 32.9 million passengers each year, according to the study.
Last year, RDU ranked ninth in customer service for large airports in North America, and in 2019, it ranked fifth.
Stephanie Hawco, the director of media relations for the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority, credited this year’s high customer satisfaction ranking to the health and safety measures put in place in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hawco said she believes customers feel safer about flying when they learn what RDU is doing to protect them in the airport.
“To protect all of the travelers and all of the employees in the airport, we have done enhanced disinfecting, enhanced cleanings, social distancing,” Hawco said.
A July 2020 RDU survey found that 83 percent of those who knew about RDU's safety efforts reported feeling confident that the airport was taking the necessary steps to keep them safe while traveling.
“People who have traveled during the pandemic report that their perceptions about the safety of travel improved after taking their first trip since the health crisis began," Hawco said.
Hawco also said she feels RDU is strong in food and beverage services, which plays a part in customer satisfaction.
“We’ve really made an effort over the last couple of years to bring some North Carolina flavor into our restaurants,” Hawco said.
The North Carolina-based restaurants that have locations in the airport include Whisky River and La Farm Bakery.
“We’re committed to providing a world-class customer experience, so that means everything from checking in to (getting) your ticket, to how we handle your baggage, what's available in terms of concessions inside the terminal, our facilities themselves,” Hawco said. “Those are things that are really important to us.”
Charlie Crooks is a flight instructor at an aviation terminal in RDU. He said the layout of the airport and the air traffic controllers play a large role in the “airport arrival/departure” factor of J.D. Power’s ranking.
Crooks said that for a busy airport of this size, RDU organizes planes in a way that allows passengers to arrive and depart in a more timely manner.
“The air traffic controllers are a very talented group of people who make excellent use of the airport's layout,” Crooks said.
Crooks said the air traffic controllers do a great job organizing different planes, such as jet planes and smaller recreational planes, which operate at different speeds. Being able to organize those allows all the planes moving through the airport to get to their destinations faster.
Raguell Couch, a first-year at UNC, last flew through RDU in 2020 — right before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic — when she flew to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City.
Couch said although the airport was busy, her flight was on time.
“They managed it well,” Couch said. “I’ve been flying at RDU since I was little. I am from Durham, and so, that's the main airport that I have to go places from. It was a great experience.”
Hawco said RDU would love to receive such an award again next year, whether it is in the top five, top three or even the No. 1 airport in North America.
“We always strive to provide the best possible experience for our guests here at RDU,” Hawco said.