Competition among airlines isn’t limited to what happens when you get onboard the plane; carriers must also make the time spent in airports more enjoyable and productive, according to Paul Jacobson, executive vice president and CFO of Delta Air Lines.

CNBC reports that while travellers have given higher marks to the in-air experience in recent years, satisfaction is lower when it comes to getting to and from the airport and spending time in airport terminals.

“I think the next area of competition in air travel is in the airport,” said Jacobson. “How do you continue to streamline that the on-the-ground experience. It is a big part of how passengers rate the experience.”

Airports continue to set new records for numbers of travellers served, but the popularity of air travel has, in some cases, made the process worse.

“They can’t build another four-line highway to the airport. Most of the airports are shoehorned into areas never meant to handle this much traffic,” said Mike Taylor, JD Power’s travel practice leader.

“People are more stressed on the airport and airlines side of things, and they blame both.”

Delta has made major investments in its land-side operations, including a partnership with Clear to implement biometric screening and speed up the check-in process.

Airlines will also continue to build new airport lounges and add other amenities that benefit high-end travellers, industry experts say.

As for other passengers, the benefits may be limited.

“Airports are just pretty bus terminals. There is only so much you can do,” said Scott Mayerowitz, executive editorial director at the travel information site The Points Guy.