And the best large airport in the United States goes to…… Philadelphia?!

JD Power and Associates just came out with their 2008 North American Airport Satisfaction Index Survey with some wild results.

Based on over 10,000 people surveyed, airline passengers rated Philadelphia the best among large (over 30 million passengers per year) airports around the country. Also in the top? Las Vegas and Orlando.

The worst three? Minneapolis, San Francisco and Seattle – Tacoma.

Airports were rated on six factors: airport accessibility, baggage claim, check-in/baggage check process, terminal facilities, security check, and food/retail services.

Take this data with a huge grain of salt though — I dare say a rock. Even if you do have 10,000 data points, people can be wildly influenced and biased. Of course you’re going to be happy in Las Vegas. You’re gambling! Sure, people like Orlando. IT’S IN FLORIDA. Can you think of a reason why people would be unhappy and cranky in Minneapolis?

As an engineer, I would perhaps be more convinced if we had calibrated judges working on a larger scale, say 1 – 50 or 100.

But hey, small yellow balls and easily readable numbers make great fodder for overblown headlines, ridiculous accusations and political whining — and that’s what we as Americans are good at. We have only ourselves to blame for the noise in the data.

What I find most amusing about the report is how the media have jumped all over it. The Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal and USA Today both claim that MSP was the worst rated airport, but none of the high-school-level data that JD Power & Associates published conclusively indicate that. Seattle – Tacoma, for example, also got “two little yellow balls out of five” in all of their categories. Furthermore, neither depot actually links to the real data, readily available on the JDPA website. Why not? Because they don’t want you to do the thinking.

Here’s what I propose to those of you that are actually interested: if you really want to see how JD ranked the airports, take a look at the site yourself, soak in the data and stop listening to idiots like me. Think about the source and quality of the data and then if you’re convinced of their opinions in the end, you have my blessing.

For what it’s worth, I think the study shows a lot of good trends and is a good basic tool to analyze the nation’s airports. But don’t base your entire life’s thesis on what you read — consider this data guidance on your enlightened path to your favorite — and least favorite — airport in the States.

Read the USA Today article here
or the MSP Business Journal article here.

Sorry for yelling.