Passengers: Things Looking up at Sacramento Int'l

Sacramento International Airport just gained altitude in the world of flight.

Two years ago, a national survey of airport users ranked the local airport near the bottom in customer satisfaction among "small" American airports.

Now, a new survey by the same group finds the airport has been bumped up to "medium." And customers say they like the place a little better now.

The J.D. Power and Associates Global Airport Satisfaction Study rates Sacramento's airport eighth out of 26 airports in its category in the United States and Canada. It tied with San Diego International.

Officials here are pleased in particular that Sacramento rated higher than the San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose airports. San Francisco International, in fact, landed at the bottom of the large airport category.

To be fair to SFO, the survey has 17,000 assessments spread over 60 airports, so statistically speaking, the sample size is small enough to get slightly skewed.

Sacramento's higher ranking comes despite the fact that the airport is busier.

Maybe more vacationers took the survey this time? (J.D. Power says vacationers tend to be happier in airports than business travelers for some reason.)

Sacramento officials say they think they got a higher rating because of a few upgrades they've made, notably the parking garage at Terminal A.

Overall, airports were judged in eight areas: accessibility, check-in/baggage check, security check, terminal facilities, food and beverage, retail services, baggage claim and immigration/customs control.

Sacramento scored well in three: airport accessibility, check-in and baggage claim. It rated average in two: security check and terminal facilities. The three other categories weren't shown for individual airports.

Sacramento remains easy to get to, at least as long as you have a car. The new parking garage is convenient. Walking distances in terminals are short. But pick-up and drop-off areas in front of Terminal A can, at times look like a NASCAR race in super slow-mo.

One looming concern: As North Natomas and south Sacramento continue to grow, Interstate 5, the main route to the airport, is getting more congested. Airport officials talk about a second entrance from Elkhorn Boulevard, but that won't help someone stuck on I-5 downtown.

Baggage claim always has been simple in Sacramento. The walk is short and the terminals funnel passengers right to the claim area.

The check-in area, however, may be the most tense and confusing place. Nobody is happy at check-in. The new self-serve kiosks are a help, and airport officials moved the clunky explosion detection machines out of the lobby.

Nobody likes the security checkpoint, either. But the line often moves pretty quickly -- at least more quickly than the Starbucks line a few feet away.

Sacramento's airport is basically bipolar. Terminal A is a feel-good place. Terminal B isn't.

Officials are planning to demolish Terminal B and replace it with an atrium-like terminal by 2011.

You can see some really high-flying architectural ideas for the new terminal by clicking in the blue boxes at: planning/TMP.htm

Speaking of "high" flying, they plan to open a Vino Volo wine bar soon in Terminal A. That ought to elevate survey scores next time around.

Copyright: The Sacramento Bee -- 7/18/06

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