Axios What's Next

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It's not just you — going to the airport is once again a pretty dreadful experience, Joann reports today. (Got a horror story — or a tale of travel success — to share? Send it our way at [email protected].)

  • Join Axios' Andrew Freedman and Alayna Treene today at 12:30 p.m. ET for a virtual event examining what's next for energy reliability. Register here.

Today's newsletter is 1,006 words ... 4 minutes.

1 big thing: Everyone hates the airport again

Travelers wait at Newark Liberty International Airport, which ranked last in customer satisfaction among the country's largest airports.
Travelers wait at Newark Liberty International Airport. Photo: Jeenah Moon/Getty Images

Even new conveniences like pre-scheduled TSA check-in or self-tagging baggage kiosks can't make up for the biggest problem plaguing airports: overcrowding, Joann Muller reports.

Why it matters: It's 2019 all over again. After a brief, blissful period during the pandemic when passengers could breeze through security checkpoints, baggage claims and restaurants, airports are again a source of frustration, according to J.D. Power's latest annual Airport Satisfaction Study.

  • And the misery will likely continue into next year, according to Michael Taylor, travel intelligence lead at J.D. Power.

Driving the news: Overall customer satisfaction with North American airports fell 25 points, for a score of 777 out of 1,000 this year, as passenger volume returned nearly to normal, J.D. Power found.

Details: The Airport Satisfaction Study looks at six factors: terminal facilities; airport arrival/departure; security check; check-in/baggage check; baggage claim; and food, beverage and retail. Some of this year's key findings include:

  • Crowds are back to pre-pandemic levels: 58% of airport travelers described the terminal as severely or moderately crowded, nearly in line with 2019.
  • Inflation hit the airport: 24% of travelers said they did not purchase any food or beverages at the airport due to high costs. That’s up from 20% in 2021 and 23% in 2019.
  • There's nowhere to park: A shortage of spaces caused a 45-point drop in satisfaction from 2021. Meanwhile, 14% of travelers said parking was more expensive than they expected, up from 12% in 2021 and 11% in 2019.

How they ranked: Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport had the highest passenger satisfaction score among major airports, at 800.

  • San Francisco International Airport was second, while Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport tied with New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport for third.
  • Newark Liberty International Airport, which has been plagued with delays over the past year, ranked last — and well below other major airports.

The intrigue: Construction has a significant effect on airport satisfaction.

  • New York's LaGuardia, which President Biden once maligned as a "Third World" airport, saw a significant bump — almost 100 points — after opening a gleaming new terminal.

What they're saying: "The combination of pent-up demand for air travel, the nationwide labor shortage, and steadily rising prices on everything from jet fuel to a bottle of water has created a scenario in which airports are extremely crowded and passengers are increasingly frustrated," Taylor said.

  • "In some ways, this is a return to normal as larger crowds at airports tend to make travelers more frazzled. But in cases where parking lots are over capacity, gates are standing room only, and restaurants and bars are not even open to offer some reprieve, it is clear that increased capacity in airports can't come soon enough."

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2. Hertz doubles down on EVs

Two Chevy Bolts sit outside a Hertz rental office.
Photo courtesy of GM

Car rental giant Hertz is ordering up to 175,000 General Motors electric vehicles over the next five years, Alex Fitzpatrick reports.

Why it matters: Hertz and GM claim it's the "largest expansion of EVs among fleet customers."

Details: The vehicles on order include models from GM's Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, Cadillac and BrightDrop brands, with options ranging from compacts to luxury and utility vehicles.

  • Hertz — which already offers EVs from Tesla and Polestar, with Chevy Bolts on the way — wants to electrify a quarter of its rental fleet by the end of 2024.

Yes, but: Teaching customers who don't normally drive EVs about the ins and outs of charging and instant torque handling remains an issue.

Alex's thought bubble: Renting an EV for work or personal travel can make a ton of sense, depending on the kind of driving you're doing. I'm looking forward to grabbing one the next time I need a rental.

Go deeper: How Hertz's big Tesla deal could boost EV adoption

3. Turning vacant land into affordable housing

Illustration of a very tall Nextdoor icon house with scaffolding.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The city of Phoenix is trying to get developers to build affordable housing on vacant or underutilized land it owns in order to make a dent in the region's worsening housing shortage, Axios' Jessica Boehm reports.

Why it matters: As in other cities across the country, Phoenix's housing shortage has created a serious supply problem, pricing out middle- and low-income families.

What's happening: Phoenix officials have identified 150 parcels ripe for development, ranging from single-family home lots to large chunks of land for potential apartment complexes.

  • Proposals for affordable or mixed-income housing projects can be submitted starting later this year.
  • Since the city already owns the land, officials are hopeful that the initiative will reduce building costs and make it more attractive for developers to build affordable housing.

The big picture: Other cities across the country have experimented with similar programs.

  • The Greater Syracuse Land Bank, for example, purchases dilapidated homes in New York's Onondaga County and works with buyers to renovate them.

Read the rest.

4. 📸 It's elec-truck

Nikola's fuel cell electric vehicle unveiled at the IAA Transportation event in Hanover, Germany.
Photo: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg via Getty Images

American electric semi-truck maker Nikola unveiled the European version of its fuel cell electric Tre truck at an event this week in Hanover, Germany.

  • This version of the Tre, still in the testing phase, is powered by hydrogen and carries enough fuel for about 500 miles of range.
  • Nikola also makes a battery-electric Tre, which is good for about 320 miles of total range and takes just over an hour and a half to charge from 0-80%, per Autoevolution.

5. One fun thing: Boy, that's a lot of ants

An ant.
Photo: VCG/Contributor via Getty Images

The planet has around 2.5 million ants for every human being, says a new study aiming to estimate the insects' total population, Alex reports.

  • That's about 20 quadrillion ants overall.

Details: The researchers, who published their work in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, took a look at nearly 500 previous studies to estimate ants' total biomass.

  • They came away with the figure of 12 megatons — meaning, if you could scoop up every ant on Earth and put them all on a scale, that's how much they'd weigh.
  • From there, you can estimate their overall population.

The idea of all those ants may be a little unsettling, but they play an essential role in the food chain — and wood-eating varieties can help return dying trees' nutrients to the soil (just keep an eye out for them around your house!).

A hearty thanks to What's Next copy editor Amy Stern.

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