After flying in and out of many, many airports over my career I got to wondering which are the biggest. I’ve been to most of the ‘Big 5’ in the U.S. but I wanted to know which was the biggest, busiest, and handled the most passengers and cargo. Today’s airports are like a small city so which holds the title?
The busiest airport in the world in terms of passengers is the Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Georgia, USA with 75,704,760 passengers in 2021. The busiest airport in terms of aircraft landings, and take-offs is again, Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport with 707,661.
However, when it comes to cargo the largest amount of freight was carried through Hong Kong International Airport, China handling 5,539,660 tons of cargo with Memphis International Airport 4,480,465 tonnes.
Here is the breakdown of the biggest airports in the world for their specific category based on data from 2021:
Top 10 Busiest Airports Based on Passenger Traffic:
|#||Airport||ICAO Identifier||Country||Total Passengers|
|1||Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport||ATL||USA||75,704,760|
|2||Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport||DFW||USA||62,465,756|
|3||Denver International Airport||DEN||USA||58,828,552|
|4||Chicago O’Hare International Airport||ORD||USA||54,020,399|
|5||Los Angeles International Airport||LAX||USA||48,007,284|
|6||Charlotte Douglas International Airport||CLT||USA||43,302,230|
|7||Orlando International Airport Airport||MCO||USA||40,351,068|
|8||Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport||CAN||CHINA||40,259,401|
|9||Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport||CTU||CHINA||40,117,496|
|10||Las Vegas McCarran International Airport||LAS||USA||39,754,366|
Top 10 Busiest Airports Based on Aircraft Movements:
|#||Airport||ICAO Identifier||Country||Total Movements|
|1||Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport||ATL||USA||707,661|
|2||Chicago O’Hare International Airpor||ORD||USA||684,201|
|3||Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport||DFW||USA||651,895|
|4||Denver International Airport||DEN||USA||580,866|
|5||Charlotte Douglas International Airport||CLT||USA||519,895|
|6||Los Angeles International Airport||LAX||USA||506,769|
|7||Las Vegas McCarran International Airport||LAS||USA||486,540|
|8||Phoenix Deer Valley Airport||DVT||USA||402,444|
|9||Miami International Airport||MIA||USA||387,973|
|10||Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport||IAH||USA||378,562|
Top 10 Busiest Airports Based on Freight:
|#||Airport||ICAO Identifier||Country||Total Tons|
|1||Hong Kong International Airport||HKG||HONG|
|2||Memphis International Airport||MEM||USA||4,938,867|
|3||Shanghai Pudong International Airport||PVG||CHINA||4,390,082|
|4||Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport||ANC||USA||3,918,893|
|5||Incheon International Airport||ICN||S. KOREA||3,669,916|
|6||Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport||SDF||USA||3,364,550|
|7||Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport||TPE||TAIWAN||3,099,771|
|8||Los Angeles International Airport||LAX||USA||2,967,234|
|9||Doha Hammad International Airport||DOH||QATAR||2,888,160|
|10||Tokyo Narita International Airport||NRT||JAPAN||2,914,592|
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Interesting Airport Facts:
Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL):
- It is the busiest airport in the world for both passenger numbers and aircraft movements.
- It is the main hub of Delta Airlines which is one of the largest airlines in the world.
- Atlanta is only the 38th largest city in the U.S. but it is the airport’s strategic eastern location making it a major entry point for international traffic.
- Hartsfield–Jackson Airport was set on an abandoned auto racetrack. The airport was initially named Candler Field after Asa Candler was the mayor and owner of the Coca-Cola Co.
- Candler Air Field came into operation on September 15, 1926.
- At present, the Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport covers an area of 4,700 acres and has five runways.
- It has two terminals and seven concourses with a total of 195 gates, the largest number of gates for a single airport in the world.
Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW):
- It is the second busiest airport in terms of passenger traffic and third in the number of aircraft movements.
- It is the biggest hub for American Airlines, and also serves 23 other passenger airlines, including 10 domestic and 13 foreign airlines.
- It has a total of seven runways, and each of them is more than 8000 feet long.
- DFW first opened in 1974 is the largest carbon-neutral airport in the world.
Denver International Airport (DEN):
- It is the third busiest airport in terms of passenger traffic and fourth in aircraft movements.
- The airport has six runways and was opened in 1995.
- The airport was once plagued with controversies, conspiracies, and scandals but now its reputation has been turned around and is now known as the best airport in the U.S.
- One conspiracy theory states that a secret underground bunker is built underneath the airport to house government officials in case of a nuclear attack. The airport, however, strongly denies this rumor.
- No other airport in the world has as much art on its walls as the Denver Airport. There are paintings on surfaces almost everywhere.
- The art inside the airport may be odd, but the art outside may be even stranger. Outside the terminal, a huge 32-feet tall rearing blue horse statue with red glowing eyes is installed which is called “Blucifer” by the locals.
Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD):
- With over 37 different airlines and 60 international plus 150 domestic destinations, it is the fourth busiest airport in terms of passenger traffic and second in terms of aircraft movements.
- It has 8 operational runways which are the most runways of any airport in the US.
- It has 180 gates.
- It was built in 1945, and was originally called “Orchard Field Airport,” but was later renamed in 1949 to honor naval pilot Edward “Butch” O’Hare.
- It is one of the most kid-friendly airports in the country. There is an interactive “Kids on the Fly” exhibit where children love the play as they explore an airplane, control tower, and helicopter models.
- The airport is its self-cleaning toilets. They. A wave of your hand over the control panel discards the old seat cover replacing it with a fresh one automatically.
Los Angeles International Airport (LAX):
- It is the fifth busiest airport in terms of aircraft movements.
- It began its operations on October 1, 1928, and was originally known as Mines Field Airport.
- LAX has a contract with the USDA for two full-time wildlife biologists deployed to manage any wildlife on and around the airfield.
- The monitoring staff uses pyrotechnics to disperse birds when they see them near the runways.
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Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT):
- It is the fifth busiest airport in terms of aircraft movements.
- CLT is also an important hub for American Airlines.
- The airport has four runways and one passenger terminal with 115 gates which is more than any other single airport terminal building in the U.S.
- CLT is known for its quality service and great value to its airline customers which attracts them to this airport.
- It has received the prestigious ‘Best Airport Eagle Award’ from the International Airport Transport Association (IATA).
Hong Kong International Airport (HKG):
- The airport is the main hub airport for major passenger and cargo airlines such as Cathay Pacific, Cathay Dragon, Hong Kong Express Airways, Hong Kong Airlines, and Air Hong Kong.
- It has been in commercial operation since 1998.
- It is one of the largest trans-shipment centers, making it the world’s busiest cargo gateway. It is the hub for Hong Kong, Guangdong, Macao, mainland China, Asia, and the world.
- Through the continuous development of passenger and cargo services, and various commercial facilities surrounding the airport, HKIA is transforming from a city airport into an Airport City.
Memphis International Airport (MEM):
- Memphis is currently the second-busiest cargo airport in the world and the first in the U.S.
- It is the World Hub of FedEx Express which alone is responsible for about 99% of the overall cargo handled.
- FedEx has leased over 40 million square feet of space from the airport.
- The huge volume of cargo shipping helps keep MEM’s landing fees low, which makes it popular for other carriers to fly to/from here.
Shanghai Pudong International Airport (PVG):
- It is the third busiest airport in the world for cargo handling.
- It is a major hub for FedEx, DHL, China Cargo Airlines, China Southern Cargo, UPS Airlines, and Suparna Airlines.
- Shanghai is the biggest city in China and an important financial center, so its airport has large passenger traffic and cargo volume.
- PVG handles dangerous goods (DG) quite efficiently, making it a big business for it. It tranships large volumes of lithium batteries particularly, which are an important component of Electric Vehicles.
Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (ANC):
- Anchorage is for a refueling stopover for many transpacific cargo flights. Most carriers use this stop to optimize the payload and range capabilities of their cargo planes, so they can operate with more efficiency with greater profitably.
- Although it is in the snow-belt. Anchorage airport never closes for snow. It has an excellent snow removal program that keeps its runways open under the most adverse snow conditions.
- 2011-2012 was a record snow year and the snow crew removed moved over 6 million tons of snow during the winter season!
Incheon International Airport (ICN):
- Incheon International Airport in South Korea is the world’s fifth-largest cargo airport.
- The airport serves as a hub for international civilian air transportation and cargo traffic in East Asia.
- It is the main hub for Korean Air, Asiana Airlines, Jeju Air, and Polar Air Cargo.
- The airport offers many things for free that you would normally be expected to pay for elsewhere.
- The terminal has a free darkened sleep room, free showers, and a free gym, which makes it quite a convenient airport to make your overnight layovers quite pleasant.