July 6, 2015

Most of the busiest U.S. airports have dedicated chapels

Ash Wednesday at Denver International Airport
Deacon Jack Sutton prays with visitors in an Ash Wednesday service at the Interfaith Chapel at Denver International Airport in 2011. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Travelers often arrive at airports praying that the security lines won’t be too long or that they don’t end up in a middle seat. But at many of the nation’s largest airports, there’s a more spiritual setting for offering up prayers – a chapel.

In fact, more than half of the nation’s busiest airports have dedicated chapels, and many of these facilities offer a variety of worship services for different faith traditions.

Many Major U.S. Airports

The first U.S. airport chapel, Our Lady of the Airways, opened at Boston’s Logan International Airport about 60 years ago. Since then, airports all over the country have added spaces for prayer, worship and meditation.

While most airport chapels are designated as interfaith spaces, some airports provide facilities for specific religious groups. John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, for example, has four places of worship: a Catholic church, a Protestant chapel, a mosque and a synagogue that is reputed to be the only one in a major airport in all of North and South America.

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, meanwhile, has five different interfaith chapels – one in every terminal.

Our count only includes those airports the Federal Aviation Administration classifies as a “large hub.” These are airports that handle 1% or more of the nation’s annual passenger boardings.

Thirty U.S. airports qualified as large hubs in 2013, the most recent year for which data are available, ranging from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (the busiest in the nation, with more than 45 million passenger boardings) to Portland (Ore.) International Airport, which accommodated 7.5 million boardings in 2013.

Of the 30 large hubs, 18 (60%) have chapels or prayer rooms. Among the 12 that don’t have space for worship are some of the nation’s most important airports, such as Los Angeles International Airport (the second-busiest in the nation) and McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas.

While four of the 18 major airports with chapels offer no formal services, the rest (14) offer at least one type of organized worship, and many of them offer more than one kind of service. For instance, Washington Dulles International Airport, near Washington, D.C., offers weekly Catholic Mass, Protestant worship and Christian prayer services, as well as daily Jewish and Muslim prayer services.

Topics: Religion and Society, Religious Beliefs and Practices

  1. is a copy editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.

14 Comments

  1. Joe12 months ago

    Are these chapels paid for by the respective religious body in some way or are they offered gratis by the airport authority?

    Just curious whether there’s a civil liberties issue here.

    Best regards,

    Joe

    1. Johnny7 months ago

      Well, Joe, are your civil liberties compromised? There’s your answer.

  2. Damian LaPorte12 months ago

    Denver International has an interfaith chapel and a prayer hall. The prayer hall is Muslim.
    flydenver.com/traveler_services/…

    1. Aleksandra Sandstrom12 months ago

      Damian:

      The designation “Y” for chapel indicates the presence of at least one chapel of any variety (in Denver’s case, there is a Masjid and an interfaith chapel). The columns with check marks indicate the types of regular worship services offered (Denver International Airport holds no regularly scheduled services).

      I hope this clarifies the post.

  3. Reverand Anon12 months ago

    What can these chapels offer to those of None Belief (atheists). They have many of the same needs/issues as other travelers who are on the roads and airways to get to funerals, hospitals or other traumatic familial or friends events.

  4. Jay Wexler12 months ago

    Hi Aleksandra–Great piece! As far as you know, have there ever been any controversies about these chapels, for example a minority faith that wants its own space near, say, a Christian one?

    1. Aleksandra Sandstrom12 months ago

      Hi, Jay. Thanks for your comment. I did not run into mention of any of the types of controversies you suggest when I was researching this piece. Most of the types of controversies that turned up (and to be clear, these turned up as asides — I did not specifically seek them out) were church-state separation issues. This report from Harvard’s Pluralism Project talks a little bit about this issue. I did also run into this piece about a conflict over the announcement of religious services over Denver International Airport’s PA system.

      1. Jay Wexler12 months ago

        Thanks very much!

  5. ckenweav12 months ago

    Really!! You can pray anywhere you want to either aloud or silently and it doesn’t matter who you are praying to. Sometimes you need to get over yourself Pew.

    1. CLN12 months ago

      Actually, praying aloud in public places has gotten some Muslim travelers into a great deal of trouble.

      And this story has no point of view to get over. It’s merely factual.

  6. Chelsea12 months ago

    Detroit has a chapel. It’s in the McNamara terminal just past security, next to the women’s bathroom. I’ve never been in but it is labeled chapel.

    1. Aleksandra Sandstrom12 months ago

      Thank you for your comment, Chelsea. The Detroit airport’s website lists the chapel you reference as a “Reflection Room.” We did not include reflection rooms or meditation rooms in our analysis.

      1. Chelsea12 months ago

        Thanks for the clarification!

  7. kcarson12 months ago

    Nice story. It’s a pleasure to read a story that isn’t full of hatred and division. Good job!