December 17, 2011, 8:17 AM — Walking past laptop-toting digital nomads who huddle around the outlets lining the concourse, you arrive at your gate with 30 minutes to spare. You have a 6-hour flight in front of you, and a laptop and a smartphone that need a full charge to keep you working and listening to music throughout the flight. You stalk the gate area. The two available outlets on the payphone are taken. No outlets on the walls. The remaining minutes before departure click down. A baby is crying. (Please, please, please, you think, don't seat me next to the baby...). "Final call for boarding." Your laptop has an hour of life left, and so does your phone. When both are dead, your noise-canceling headphones will be useless. You board and approach your seat. You're in 16B. The baby, in 16C, is already crying...
Another day in the friendly skies. It's happened before, and it will happen again. But it doesn't have to be that way. Airports across the country are installing more outlets and improving their Wi-Fi signals--but some are moving much faster than others. And fortunately, these days you have some measure of control: On many trips you have a choice of airports, terminals, and airlines. If you only knew what tech amenities were waiting for you at the airport, you might think twice before choosing an airline that flies out of gates like the one described above.
PCWorld sent researchers all over the country to canvass the gates of the 40 busiest airports in the United States and to identify the tech winners and losers. In all our airport auditors visited 3300 gates from coast to coast; they counted more than 17,000 electrical outlets, 5000 USB ports, and 1350 charging stations; and they performed hundreds of tests of airport Wi-Fi and cellular broadband service. For further details see "In Search of the Tech-Savvy Airport."
The charts on the following pages illustrate how each airport performed in these areas, with rankings of the top airports for overall tech amenities, the best terminals, and the best airports for Wi-Fi and cellular service. We also rated the major domestic airlines on their efforts to accommodate mobile, connected travelers--at the gates, in the planes, and online.
The Big Picture