President Obama, as part of a larger point urging Congress to invest in American infrastructure, made several references to a study on the world’s best airports at a news conference.
“There was a recent survey of the top airports in the world,” Obama said. “And there was not a single U.S. airport that came in the top 25, not one. Not one U.S. airport was considered by the experts and consumers who use these airports to be in the top 25 in the world. I think Cincinnati Airport came in around 30th. Well, what does that say about our long-term competitiveness and future?”
First, pictured above, is a map I’ve put together showing the top 25 airports in that survey, which was recently released by SkyTrax. You can move your cursor over the markers to see the name of each airport and its place in the ranking. The red markers show the top-five airports. (Update:: The map was down before but is now working again.)
The SkyTrax ranking, based on a survey they conduct, includes lots of Northeast Asian airports, a few in Northern Europe, plus such transit hubs as Abu Dhabi, Cape Town and Kuala Lumpur. The top-ranked American airport is Cincinnati at 30, followed by Denver at 36.
Obama, in citing the study, said it showed why the United States needs to “upgrade our airports so we don’t rank in the, you know, bottom of industrialized countries when it comes to our infrastructure.”
The obvious merits of that point aside, Slate’s Matthew Yglesias thinks that the actual study used in service of that point might not be methodologically sound. The survey “doesn’t appear to be particularly rigorous or scientific in its sampling,” he writes, and even if it is rigorous, it compares “apples to oranges” by assuming that a passenger in Singapore is grading his or her airport experience on the same subjective scale as a passenger in Los Angeles. He also notes that it’s misleading to compare very big airports to very small airports; surely the former might, just by virtue of carrying lots of traffic, be a bit more of a pain to navigate.
All of which is to say that you should probably take this study with a considerable grain of salt. But if you were curious about the study that had Obama so visibly upset, these are the airports it picked out as the world’s best.