Twitter Analysis Reveals The Angriest Airports In America

Mickey and Minnie Mouse come across as a happy couple without a care in the world, right? Well, we don’t know what Mickey and Minnie think, but a lot of travelers appear to be unhappy with the Southern California airport that’s closest to the pair’s Los Angeles-area workplace—Disneyland.

Based on Twitter activity, John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California, angers its travelers more than any other U.S. airport. To arrive at that conclusion, Forbes Advisor analyzed more than 37,000 tweets directed at the 60 busiest airports in the U.S. from March 2022 to March 2023. We then used a machine learning tool to analyze the sentiment of each tweet and determine where travelers are most annoyed.

The analysis found that nearly two-thirds (65%) of the tweets aimed at John Wayne Airport could be characterized as “angry.” The words that popped up most in tweets from disgruntled John Wayne Airport travelers were “noise,” “staff, “TSA,” “complaints” and “delayed.”

By comparison, travelers fumed in a lower percentage of tweets targeted at two neighboring airports—Los Angeles International Airport (55%) and Hollywood Burbank Airport (54%).

Elsewhere, Indianapolis International Airport grabbed the award for the least hacked-off air travelers on Twitter, one of the internet’s favorite places to gripe.

Key Findings

  • More than half (52%) of tweets from travelers who @-mentioned an airport were angry
  • The three most commonly used words in angry airport tweets are “delays,” “security” and “hours”
  • John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California, angers its travelers more than any other major airport
  • The world’s busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, is the sixth most anger-inducing big airport in the country
  • Users of the airports serving Indianapolis, Seattle-Tacoma and Kansas City are the least angry based on Twitter activity

Do Angry Tweets Truly Reflect the Experience at John Wayne Airport?

Results of John Wayne Airport’s own passenger survey show a high overall airport approval rating. Nearly three-fourths (73%) of passengers who were surveyed in 2022 awarded the airport an overall score of 5 out of 5.

In a news release announcing the survey findings, Charlene Reynolds, director of John Wayne Airport, said the results highlight the airport’s “commitment to deliver safe and convenient air travel and a superior guest experience travelers can rely on.” The airport serves more than 11 million passengers a year.

Independent research also gives the airport high marks. In 2022, The Wall Street Journal ranked John Wayne Airport as the ninth best midsize airport in the country. The airport landed in an even better spot (No. 2) in the large airport category of the J.D. Power 2022 North America Airport Satisfaction Study.

Digging deeper, John Wayne Airport neither shines nor sinks in two areas that infuriate many travelers: on-time arrivals and departures, and wait times at security checkpoints.

The airport shows up at No. 10 in the WSJ’s reliability category, which covers arrivals and departures. But it doesn’t fare as well for wait times for TSA and passport control checkpoints at 39 U.S. airports, ranking 29th in a 2022 ranking by luggage storage service Bounce of the longest.

Officials at the airport were unavailable to comment on the Forbes Advisor findings.

An Explanation for the Frustration?

Jeremy Hyatt, principal at Southern California PR firm Green Flash Media, frequently flies in and out of John Wayne Airport, whose airport code is SNA. He offers a potential explanation for at least some of the angry SNA tweets.

“Traveling to SNA for vacation or spring break can be challenging for many visitors due to long rental car and TSA lines, unexpected California taxes and fees, limited take-off and landing times, and extended luggage wait times,” says Hyatt, who lives in Dana Point, about 25 miles southeast of the airport. “These frustrating experiences can make a trip less enjoyable.”

Nonetheless, Hyatt describes SNA as a “fantastic” airport for business and leisure travelers. Why? Because it’s a small, easy-to-navigate airport that provides easy access to gates and a top-notch valet service, he says.

Easy in Indy

Perhaps those who use Indianapolis International Airport aren’t as prone to firing off angry tweets because it’s easy to navigate, especially compared with airports in bigger cities.

Nikki Frazer, a retail and digital strategist at professional services firm PwC, flies in and out of the Indy airport each week. She appreciates that it’s “small and efficient.” Frazer lives about 35 miles northeast of the airport in the Indianapolis suburb of Westfield.

Frazer isn’t the only traveler who appreciates the Indy airport. In the J.D. Power 2022 North America Airport Satisfaction Study, the airport ranked No. 1 for customer satisfaction among midsize airports in North America.

“We strive for the Indy airport to be the epitome of Hoosier Hospitality, and that makes a profound impact on the overall traveler experience to our community,” Mario Rodriguez, executive director of the Indianapolis Airport Authority, said in a news release about the latest J.D. Power accolades.

In contrast to the J.D. Power study, The Wall Street Journal placed the Indy airport at No. 18 among 30 midsize airports in the U.S. In the WSJ’s reliability category, which comprises arrivals and departures, the airport appeared at No. 20. The Indy airport wasn’t included in the Bounce study of TSA and passport control wait times.

Airport officials couldn’t be reached for comment.

While Frazer offers some praise for the Indy airport, she also suggests some improvements. She wishes there were more sit-down restaurants and more things to do during flight delays.

“I’d also like to see them add CLEAR (Plus), as (TSA) PreCheck is starting to get backed up at times,” Frazer said.

Other Airports

Some of the other airports that ranked among the most complained about by Twitter users, also received high marks from J.D. Power.

Some 60% of tweets directed toward Jacksonville International Airport were deemed angry, with the most popular complaints focusing on lines, delays and the TSA. That airport ranked third among medium airports for customer satisfaction. Tampa International Airport, which registered 57% of tweets directed toward it as negative, ranked No. 1 in passenger satisfaction by J.D. Power.

Methodology

In March 2023, we analyzed more than 37,000 tweets directed at the 60 busiest airports in the United States over the preceding 12 months. We established the list of airports based on total passenger boardings in 2021, as reported by the FAA. A given tweet was designated as being directed at one of the airports if the tweet cited the official Twitter handle of that airport in its message, informally known as “@ mentioning” or “@-ing” an entity.

Once we amassed our raw set of tweets, we processed them with a Python-based machine learning tool that measures the sentiment of language in each tweet. Each tweet was scored on characteristics of “sadness,” “joy,” “love,” “anger,” “fear,” and “surprise.” Then each tweet was tagged with the emotion it scored highest for. In this case, we focused our analysis exclusively on tweets tagged as “anger.” To establish airports with the angriest travelers we calculated the total number of angry tweets as a proportion of all tweets directed at that airport.

It’s important to note that on Twitter, there is a considerable ecosystem of non-traveler entities tweeting at airports on a regular basis, ranging from local TSA accounts to news media to aviation industry analysts. To focus our analysis on tweets from average travelers, and to filter out recurring @ mentions from non-travelers, we only analyzed tweets from Twitter handles that @ mentioned an airport four times or less in the past year.

Of the 60 busiest airports, seven were excluded from our analysis for either not having an official Twitter handle (OGG, SJU, HNL) or not being tweeted at more than 50 times over the past year (ANC, PBI, MSY, SMF).

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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