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Get connected at America's techiest airports

If you’ve ever found yourself at the airport hunting for an available outlet or waiting on glacial-paced Wi-Fi, help is at hand. On Thursday, PCWorld magazine released its first-ever report on the Top Airports for Tech Travelers.

“The number of people who are carrying smartphones, laptops and other mobile and connected devices has really increased,” said Mark Sullivan, PCWorld senior editor. “We wanted to find out which airports were prepared for this new kind of traveler and which ones were lagging behind.”

Covering 40 airports around the U.S., the report named the top 10 as:

  • Dallas-Fort Worth
  • New York (JFK)
  • Atlanta
  • Detroit
  • Sacramento
  • Oakland
  • New York (LaGuardia)
  • Salt Lake City
  • Baltimore
  • San Francisco

To reach that conclusion, researchers hit 3,300 gates around the country, tested 17,000 electrical outlets, 5,000 USB ports and 1,350 charging stations, and monitored the speed and strength of Wi-Fi and cellular service.

Wi-Fi speed and the availability of outlets were double-weighted, said Sullivan, “Because we’ve all seen people at the airport walking around trying to find a free outlet or connect to the Internet.”

The report also breaks the data down by listing the top 10 terminals, the top 10 airports for Wi-Fi and the top 10 airports for cell service. A separate category for airlines compared the nation’s 10 largest carriers based on their terminal tech amenities, mobile apps, fleet-wide Wi-Fi and use of social media. The top three, according to PCWorld, are Delta, Alaska and Virgin America.

On the ground or in the air, such distinctions are likely to take on even greater importance because travelers are among the earliest adopters of new technology, said Henry Harteveldt, airline and travel industry analyst with Atmosphere Research Group. According to the company’s latest (October) numbers:

  • 94 percent of travelers have a mobile phone; 51 percent of those phones are smartphones
  • 74 percent of travelers own a laptop; 36 percent of them carry them on every trip
  • 19 percent of travelers have a tablet, although only 18 percent of them bring them on every trip

“I expect that we’ll see massive changes in [tablet] behavior over the next few years as tablets shift from entertainment- and information-focused use to productivity/business use,” said Harteveldt.

In the meantime, the PCWorld report suggests that the demand for electricity and connectivity isn’t about to abate and that airports are going to have to invest in IT infrastructure to attract an audience that expects it be fast, free (or otherwise subsidized) and readily accessible.

“If you’re a business traveler and you’ve got the choice of three similarly priced plane tickets, you might want to know which terminal you want to fly out of,” said Sullivan of PCWorld. “If you know you have a good chance of finding an outlet and a good Wi-Fi signal, it might influence which ticket you buy.”

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Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him at Twitter.