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Fast Food Before Takeoff: Which U.S. Airports Offer the Best Options?

With less than 7,000 daily passengers per fast food chain, Cincinnati has been revealed as the best U.S. airport to grab a quick bite in 2024

by Fergus Cole

February 22, 2024

Photo: Courtesy of Denver International Airport

Millions of passengers grab a quick bite before their flights every day. They may yearn for a familiar taste of home or fill up on comfort food in anticipation of the often not-so-appealing in-flight meals. 

For this reason, almost every airport in the U.S. offers some fast food dining options in their terminal buildings and waiting areas, catering to hungry passengers waiting for their flights or on lengthy layovers.

However, the difference in options can be vast. Some major airports offer a seemingly endless array of burger joints and fried chicken shacks, while travelers at small airports may be left with just two or three restaurants to choose from. 

Photo: Courtesy of Denver International Airport

Luckily, the team at Upgraded Points has analyzed dining options across the 60 busiest airports in the U.S. to reveal which airports are the best for fast food in 2024.

The team ranked the airports based on their access to fast food, which was determined by calculating the ratio of fast food options to daily passenger traffic. 

With more restaurants per passenger, customers can expect shorter lines and more time to enjoy their meals. The study included only the 20 most popular fast-food chains in terms of store locations.

Dallas and Cincinnati on Top

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) has the highest number of popular fast food chains at 19. However, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) was found to be the best airport for fast food access, with just under 7,000 passengers per restaurant daily. 

Photo: Courtesy of Upgraded Points

This is around 73% lower than average, with options including well-known brands such as Chick-fil-A, Subway, and Wendy’s.

Following closely behind is Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), with a rate of just under 7,500 passengers per fast food chain. IAH is significantly larger than CVG, offering an impressive 15 popular fast food options, including no less than 5 Panda Expresses.

Ontario International Airport (ONT) is in third place, followed by Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (CLE) and Washington-Dulles International Airport (IAD) in fourth and fifth place, respectively.

Top 10: passengers per fast food chain

RankAirportDaily Pax / Restaurant% Diff from Avg
1Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG)6,916-72.94%
2George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH)7,484-70.72%
3Ontario International Airport (ONT)7,847-69.30%
4Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (CLE)7,940-68.94%
5Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD)9,692-62.09%
6Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI)10,413-59.26%
7Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)10,579-58.62%
8Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT)11,115-56.52%
9Indianapolis International Airport (IND)11,908-53.42%
10Eppley Airfield (OMA)12,347-51.70%

However, measuring the ratio of daily passengers to restaurants is not the only way to gauge access to fast food. Upgraded Points conducted a study to estimate the number of popular fast-food chains per mile in each airport.

Photo: Courtesy of Denver International Airport

According to the study, San Diego International Airport (SAN) has the highest concentration of fast food options within a smaller area— particularly beneficial for passengers carrying heavy luggage or staying close to their gate.

Top 10: fast food chains per mile

RankAirportPopular Fast Food ChainsFast Food Chains / Mile
1San Diego International Airport (SAN)33.09
2John Wayne Airport (SNA)22.74
3Miami International Airport (MIA)112.26
4Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL)152.15
5Harry Reid International Airport (LAS)71.72
6Philadelphia International Airport (PHL)51.49
7Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (MSP)61.39
8Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI)61.26
9Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (CLE)31.2
10Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)61.18

Lastly, according to Upgraded Points, McDonald’s and Chick-fil-A are the two most popular fast food chains in the 60 busiest airports in the United States.

Photo: Courtesy of Denver International Airport

The study counted the total number of locations for each chain across these airports and the number of airports with a location in each chain. McDonald’s has locations in 16 of the 60 busiest airports, while Chick-fil-A has locations in 25 of the 60 busiest airports.

Overall, 35 McDonald’s and Chick-fil-A locations are across the 60 busiest airports.

Top 10: airport fast food chains nationwide

RankFast Food ChainTotal LocationsAirports with a Location% of Airports with a Location
1Chick-fil-A352541.67%
2Burger King241830%
3Wendy’s201728.33%
4McDonald’s351626.67%
5Subway241626.67%
6Panda Express221525%
7Pizza Hut1058.33%
8Popeyes758.33%
9Whataburger658.33%
10Panera Bread646.67%

“Quick-service restaurants are more than just a convenience – they’re an essential piece of the travel experience for many,” said Alex Miller, founder & CEO of Upgraded Points.

“From the dominance of Chick-fil-A in a staggering number of airports to the widespread availability of global giants like McDonald’s and Subway, these chains ensure that travelers are never too far from a taste of home.”