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The Busiest Airports in the US

The United States has some of the busiest airspace in the world with the size of the country making internal flights the most popular way of getting from state to state and city to city. In this post, we’re going to look at the busiest airports in the US.

As of 2019, 15 of the 50 busiest airports in the world were in the United States. Significant hubs like Newark and Miami don’t even make the top 10 in the country and there are a few slightly surprising inclusions. The data in this post comes from the 2019 Port Authority Airport Traffic Report. Clearly the figures will have dropped significantly in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic.


The Busiest Airports in the USA by Passenger Numbers


These were the busiest airports in the US by passenger traffic (domestic and international) in 2019. Figures are rounded up to the nearest 100,000.

1. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Georgia

Busiest airport in the USA
Atlanta Airport, CC BY-SA 2.0

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta is not only the busiest airport in the USA, but the busiest in the whole world with over 110 million passengers in the year 2019.

That’s a pretty extraordinary figure which works out at over 300,000 people flying in or out of Atlanta every day. There are only around 500,000 living in the actual city of Atlanta so why is its airport so busy?

Well, its metropolitan area is considerably larger and ranks as one of the ten largest urban areas in the USA. It’s also around 250 miles away from any other major airport (Charlotte being the nearest) so its catchment area is quite large when compared to somewhere like New York which has multiple airports and other major cities nearby. Atlanta is also the main hub of Delta – the second largest carrier in the US and indeed the world, and the airport is something of a gateway to Latin America.

Number of Passengers in 2019: 110.5 million

2. Los Angeles International Airport, California

Los Angeles International, often referred to as LAX, had over 88 million people pass through it in 2019. Only Atlanta and Beijing had more worldwide and it has long been one of the most well known airports on the planet linking the West Coast of the USA with the Far East as well as most major cities in North, Central and South America.

It is the second busiest airport in the US by international passenger traffic, with only New York’s JFK having more. 25.7 million international travellers passed through LAX in 2019, although that’s still a relatively small percentage of its total, with most of its flights being domestic ones.

Also ranking as one of the world’s busiest cargo airports, four runways are needed to cope with all of the flights coming and going.

Number of Passengers in 2019: 88.1 million

3. Chicago O’Hare International Airport, Illinois

Chicago Airport
O’Hare International via Katherine Johnson, CC BY 2.0

Next up we head to Chicago and O’Hare International, located on the northwest side of the Windy City, which has direct connections with airports all around the world. As is the case with most US airports, most of its traffic though comes from domestic flights.

It opened in 1944, while World War II was still raging in Europe and Asia and today serves as the main hub for United Airlines – the third largest airline in the world with a route network spanning six continents. It has four terminals, somewhat confusingly labelled 1, 2, 3 and 5 with the previous “Terminal 4” having only been a temporary facility while Terminal 5 was constructed to serve almost all international flights.

One of the airport’s strangest quirks is that it is the site of an apiary which is home to an estimated one million bees.

Number of Passengers in 2019: 84.4 million

4. Dallas/Ft Worth International Airport, Texas

The fourth busiest airport in the United States and the busiest in Texas is Dallas/Fort Worth International with the vast majority of its 75 million annual passengers boarding flights to other cities in the USA.

It serves as the HQ for American Airlines – largely perceived to be the biggest airline in the world with a larger fleet size and more passengers carried than any other. In 2013, Dallas/Ft Worth became one of a select group of airports to offer direct flights to more than 200 destinations joining Frankfurt, Paris, Amsterdam, Atlanta, Chicago and Munich in reaching the milestone.

It is also one of the biggest airports in the US covering a larger area than the New York island of Manhattan.

Number of Passengers in 2019: 75.1 million

5. Denver International Airport, Colorado

Denver Airport
Denver Airport via Britta Gustafson, CC BY-SA 2.0

The only bigger airport than Dallas in the United States, is Denver which covers an enormous 140 km². It has a 4.88 km runway – the longest in the US and seventh longest in the world serving public airplanes.

The need for such a long runway is in part explained by the so-called “hot and high” conditions which can affect the performance of planes when taking off and landing in cities at altitude such as Denver.

It is generally viewed as one of the better airports in the country too with a much more modern feel having only opened in 1995 and a more aesthetically pleasing design. Its signature feature is the teflon-coated fiberglass roof with peaks designed to resemble Colorado’s famous Rocky Mountains.

Number of Passengers in 2019: 69.0 million


The Top 10 Busiest Airports in the US

Airport State Number of Passengers in 2019
Atlanta Georgia 110.5 million
Los Angeles California 88.1 million
Chicago Illinois 84.4 million
Dallas/Ft Worth Texas 75.1 million
Denver Colorado 69.0 million
New York JFK New York 62.6 million
San Francisco California 57.4 million
Seattle-Tacoma Washington 51.8 million
McCarran (Las Vegas) Nevada 51.7 million
Orlando Florida 50.6 million

New York (JFK), San Francisco, Seattle, Las Vegas and Orlando are the other airports to make the top ten. The other US airports ranked in the top 50 globally for air traffic in 2019 were Miami, Newark, Charlotte, Phoenix and Houston.

The busiest airports in the US in 2021 may look slightly different to this with airports such as New York JFK, which has more international flights, likely to experience a bigger dip due to the pandemic.


This post was published in April 2021.


 

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