Despite billions of dollars in improvements, Minneapolis-St. Paul International airport ranked dead last in customer satisfaction, according to a J.D. Power and Associates survey released Tuesday.

The survey ranked airports on six factors, including check-in and baggage claim facilities and food offerings, and MSP received the lowest marks across the board. MSP received a score of 647 on a 1,000-point scale, the lowest among the 60 airports studied. Frequent flight delays, baggage claim waits and its sprawling design all contributed to the low scores.

Metropolitan Airports Commission spokesman Patrick Hogan was surprised by MSP's low rankings.

"These rankings are not consistent with the kind of survey feedback we get from other organizations or from surveys we conduct ourselves," he said.

In J.D. Power's two previous surveys, MSP ranked low, but never last.

Ty Richardson, 44, of Minneapolis, said he was also surprised to hear MSP received such a low ranking.

Richardson, who flies about six times per year for a mix of business and leisure trips, said he likes the convenience of riding the light rail to the airport and enjoys waiting for his flights in the food court area.

Hogan said the airport's food and retail offerings have been updated over the past few years to include local favorites like the French Meadow Bakery and D'amico and Sons. Since 1996, $3 billion has been spent on terminal renovations.

"I don't care about the frills," said Paige Whitney, 25, of St. Paul, whose plane was recently de-iced, causing a delay. "I just care about being on time and getting where I'm going."

Consumers frustrated

Jim Gaz, senior director of travel and entertainment for J.D. Power and Associates, said overall satisfaction declined again this year, after gains between 2002 and 2006.

"All of the airports took a hit this year," he said. "Customers are frustrated." More than one in five passengers experienced a delay.

At MSP, that figure was even higher. This past year 24 percent of fliers were delayed, compared to 18 percent the year before.

Hogan blamed weather-related delays and last summer's runway closure as contributing to the airport's low score.

In other surveys, Hogan said MSP usually ranks high in retail and concessions, as well as security lines. MSP has six security checkpoints in the main lobby, compared to other airports, which have only one or two.

Rising costs and declining services from airlines may also be a contributing factor, Hogan said. "It has a ripple effect on airports," he said, "if travelers aren't happy with their flight."

Still, he declined to pinpoint specific issues with the airport's dominant carrier, Northwest Airlines, which canceled large numbers of flights last June and July.

Gaz believes differently, and said Northwest's troubles may have affected the survey results, although its other hubs in Detroit and Memphis scored significantly better.

"There's definitely some correlation between [an] airline's performance and the airport experience. Customers don't separate the two," he said.

MSP showed slight increases in the amount of time passengers waited to get their bags and the length of time it took to get through the terminal, Gaz said.

The J.D. Power and Associates report comes on the tail of a report released Tuesday ranking individual airlines. Northwest, along with many other major carriers, received sinking ratings from fliers.

Among large airports, those in Philadelphia, Las Vegas and Orlando were the three highest scorers.

More than 21,165 passengers who flew round-trip between April 2007 and March 2008 were surveyed and given the option to evaluate up to three airports, resulting in more than 36,500 total responses. Gaz said 1,399 respondents evaluated MSP and the average number of responses for large airports was about 1,000. The survey was taken throughout the year, but 35 percent of responses came in September and January.

Emma L. Carew • 612-673-7405