Sentiment of the Week: Exhaustion with Air Travel

By: Clarabridge Team

May 7, 2015

customer experience
customer experience management
Sentiment Analysis

Among modern marvels, there is perhaps no greater disparity between achievement and approval rating than air travel. That we catapult ourselves around the globe, rising above the clouds as time zones pass by like trees on the side of the road, has in fewer than 100 years gone from mere ambition to a daily occurrence. Journeys that were once measured in days or weeks are now accomplished in the span of hours.

For as truly amazing as air travel is, people have gotten over it extremely quickly. Frequent delays, nearly comprehensive security measures, and the indignity and loose interpretation of the term “leg-room” have combined to sour the collective opinion of flying. Disregarding the mechanics and the physics, the logistics alone qualify as a human achievement, when you stop to consider them – but nobody does, because their gate was just moved to another terminal, and boarding begins in three minutes. It’s all such a hassle.

Nowhere is the disconnect between the marvel that is air travel and the opinion of the flying public more apparent than in reviews of the airports themselves, where the voice of the customer is most easily heard. Unlike the train stations and bus terminals that made up the travel network of yesteryear, modern airports are built to accommodate large numbers of people for relatively long periods of time. Dining options are extensive, even in smaller regional airports; so, too, are opportunities to shop for clothes, fragrances, souvenirs, and in many cases duty-free alcohol and tobacco. Most have airline-sponsored luxury lounges – and yet, according to our sentiment analysis, people just don’t like even the biggest and most important airports.


For the purposes of this study, we selected eight of the ten busiest airports in the world, as measured by passenger traffic; these were Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, O’Hare International Airport, Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, London Heathrow Airport, Charles de Gaulle Airport, Hong Kong International Airport, and Tokyo Haneda Airport. In order to gauge sentiment, we ran a textual analysis of a popular US-based review site; that 100% of the data that we analyzed was in English accounts for the relatively low volume of responses surrounding both Hong Kong International and Tokyo Haneda airport. This low volume and selection bias helps to explain their advantage in sentiment as well, as the sample size might reasonably skew the sentiment.

Among the US and European airports, Hartsfield-Jackson (ATL) and Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) have the highest sentiment scores, with ATL — the world’s busiest airport for the better part of two decades — the runaway leader in terms of the volume of responses as well. The clear loser? LAX, ranking second in volume, yet dead last in terms of sentiment, with a -.44 score. Heathrow, O’Hare, and de Gaulle also registered negative sentiment scores amid a substantial volume of reviews.

So what makes the difference, in terms of the customer experience at each location? Perhaps the biggest culprit could be long security lines — among the US and Euro airports, LAX was by far the worst at keeping travelers waiting, with five of their terminals reporting wait times of 20 minutes or more; no other airport had more than three such terminals. As for making positive strides, both ATL and DFW boast high-speed, convenient automated people movers (trains, or trams, etc) that make traversing their expansive campuses relatively easy; LAX, by contrast, has no such system. So despite the wealth of dining options available at each location, the message is clear: People most like the airports that get them out and on their way in as little time as possible. If you’re interested in the software that helps us run analyses like these, contact us to request a demo.

Clarabridge’s blog, Sentiments, helps businesses incorporate customer sentiment and feedback into their business strategy. Published by Clarabridge, Sentiments speaks to customer experience professionals, marketers, customer care leaders and anyone who wants to make informed, strategic decisions that delight customers. Follow Sentiments on Twitter @Clarabridge.