What could DC’s airports do better? More bathrooms, shorter customs lines

Leading into the Thanksgiving travel rush, statistics suggest people flying in and out of Reagan National and Dulles airports are generally satisfied with their experience — despite some rather specific areas of concern.

Overall customer satisfaction in 2018 was 3.7 out of 5 for Reagan National, and 3.9 out of 5 for Dulles. The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority has it at 3.7 for Reagan and 4.0 for Dulles for 2019 through the end of October.

At Reagan National, bathrooms get the lowest customer satisfaction score (3.6, unchanged from last year). At Dulles International, customs and the related long waits get the lowest ratings (3.7, also unchanged from last year).

Both of those ratings still rank between what MWAA considers “good” and “very good” on the five-point scale it uses for customer surveys, but the two airports are still aiming to take at least some steps to address the issues, including as part of the major ongoing construction at Reagan National.

“We’re adding the new concourse, so those are new restrooms for the same passengers we currently have. In addition to that, we’re adding restrooms in the area that is going to return back to us from TSA space, and other space,” MWAA CEO Jack Potter said.

The current security checkpoints in Reagan National’s Terminal B/C will be removed when new checkpoints are finished near the airport’s Metro station. Those checkpoints are currently delayed, with opening expected in late 2021.

The new small jet concourse that will replace Gate 35X is scheduled to open in July 2021.

Reagan National had already added an additional bathroom in Terminal A, but still saw survey ratings slip last month.

The Terminal A shopping and dining hall setup is also an area that draws a relatively high number of complaints from confused passengers.

“We’ve increased staffing, we’ve increased signage, and we’re doing more with mystery shopping,” Airports Authority Director of Revenue Strategy and Analysis Gene Sutch said.

They are also working to improve signage to rental cars at Reagan National, since construction has made the rental car counters much harder to find.

Breastfeeding or pumping rooms get the highest ratings at Reagan National.

Overall complaints there are down 31% this year compared to last, and ground transportation complaints are down 88%, Sutch said.

At Dulles, airport staff have attempted to provide some improvements to the customs process like the return of the mobile passport system after major complaints about long lines.

The mobile app to fill out customs forms had been available to U.S. and Canadian citizens using Dulles for about three years, but it was removed as customs phased in a separate biometric processing system.

Still, customs is the biggest driver of specific complaints made to the airport this year.

Reagan National’s general satisfaction ratings have mostly been lower since May, while Dulles has remained relatively consistent over the course of the year.

The ratings describe 5 as excellent, 4 as very good, 3 as good, 2 as fair and 1 as poor.

The various pieces of the ratings are based on about 1,800 online or test surveys at each airport, more than 7,000 total online comments, and 341,446 button presses so far this year on “Happy or Not” buttons that give people a range from very happy to very sad faces to express their satisfaction with a bathroom, signage or other specific question posed.

New devices with smiley face, neutral, or sad face buttons will roll out in January that provide even more immediate feedback in the airport.

For example, if multiple people push the sad button within a 15 minute period in a bathroom, someone could be dispatched to clean things up.

Dulles’s international arrivals Concourse C gets the highest ratings using those systems, but the International Arrivals Building gets the lowest.

“Mobile lounges” that carry passengers across the tarmac get the second-lowest rating at Dulles, but still see about two-thirds of people hit the happy face as they get on or off.

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