These Are the Top 10 Busiest Airports in the World
Which airport earned the No. 1 spot? We’re betting that the busiest airport in the world isn’t the one you think!
Due to travel restrictions, the mask mandate and worldwide quarantine rules, airlines were among the hardest-hit industries during the pandemic. The number of people flying in April 2020 was an eye-popping 96% lower than in April 2019, and by the end of 2020, traffic was still 60% below 2019 levels, according to data from the U.S. Government Accountability Office. But things are finally starting to recover, with travelers buying more plane tickets and airports again moving millions of people and tons of cargo. You’ve probably noticed this yourself, especially if you’ve traveled through any of the busiest airports in the world recently. In 2021, airports saw an increase of about 25%, and the numbers only seem to be rising.
But what does “busiest” mean, exactly? The Airports Council International recently released a report breaking down the busiest airports in the world based on passenger traffic, cargo and aircraft movements—and the results might surprise you. If you had to guess the airport that handled the most air travelers in the world, what would you say? New York? London? Paris? Beijing? Spoiler alert: It’s none of those!
Read on to find out which airports are the world’s busiest. You’ll also want to learn how Global Entry or TSA PreCheck can help you speed through security, how to avoid missing your connecting flight, what to do if your flight is canceled and whether you should leave one of these airports during a layover. In short, don’t leave home without these tips!
Which country has the busiest airport?
Not only is the busiest airport in the world in America, but eight out of the top 10 on this list also happen to be American airports. Passenger traffic at the top 10 busiest airports in the world accounts for almost 10% of all global traffic. Considering there are more than 9,300 public airports in the world (5,217 in the United States alone), servicing 3.4 billion passengers so far in 2022, that’s a lot of people traveling through airports every day.
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What is the busiest airport in the world in 2022?
Before we get to No. 1, here are the top 10 busiest airports in the world. We also included some expert advice for how to navigate them from someone who has been in every one: Mike Hatten, a retired airline pilot, aviation expert and former senior management of fleet training at a major U.S. airline.
10. Harry Reid International Airport (LAS) in Las Vegas, Nevada
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How much traffic it got in 2021: 39,754,366 passengers
Las Vegas is a top tourist destination worldwide, and it’s just a short flight from big cities like Phoenix and Los Angeles. Plus, because of its central location and infrastructure, it handles a lot of connecting flights. Did you know this airport has slot machines? Well, now you do! You can also entertain yourself before a flight by shopping at a duty-free store.
Pro tip: Don’t fly through here in the summer months, if possible. June 2022 was the busiest month for air travel that the airport has ever experienced, clocking 4,683,156 passengers. And with air travel rebounding and summer being the height of tourist season, experts only expect that number to grow.
9. Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport (CTU) in Chengdu, China
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How much traffic it got in 2021: 40,117,496 passengers
This airport is an aviation center for western China and one of the two core hubs for the country’s main airline, Air China. Nearly 350 million people live in western China, so CTU services about one-third of China’s population.
Pro tip: Sign up for Global Entry, a service similar to TSA PreCheck but for international travel. “This will help you get through a busy airport customs line and back into the country so much faster,” says Hatten.
8. Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport (CAN) in Guangzhou, China
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How much traffic it got in 2021: 40,259,401 passengers
Located in southern China, Guangzhou Baiyun International is the busiest airport outside the United States and the busiest airport in China. Guangzhou is one of five “special economic zones” in China, meaning that businesses—including the airport—are given more leeway in operations and less government oversight. For instance, curfews that apply to other Chinese airports don’t apply to Guangzhou, allowing it to operate 24 hours a day and subsequently making it very busy.
Pro tip: Americans traveling through the Baiyun airport are given a 144-Hour Visa-Free Transit pass. This allows you to take short trips in the province without the usual paperwork, making it faster and easier to leave and return to the airport. To qualify, you must show a valid U.S. passport and connecting flight tickets to a third country or region.
7. Orlando International Airport (MCO) in Orlando, Florida
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How much traffic it got in 2021: 40,351,068 passengers
Orlando is one of the top five most visited cities in the United States, with nearly 60 million visitors in 2021. It makes sense, as it’s home to Disney World and Universal Studios—two of the most popular theme parks in the world—along with miles of famous resort beaches.
Pro tip: It’s always a good idea to arrive two hours early for your flight, says Hatten, but this is even more important in Orlando, since airport security check lines here can be very unpredictable. You can check the airline’s website or Twitter for real-time updates on security wait times.
6. Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) in Charlotte, North Carolina
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How much traffic it got in 2021: 43,302,230 passengers
Douglas airport is a “fortress hub” for American Airlines, the largest airline in the United States. It also claims the largest passenger terminal, with 115 gates—all of which become packed during holiday travel.
Pro tip: American Airlines ranks No. 1 for the highest number of lost and mishandled pieces of luggage. “Avoid it if you can, but if you must check luggage, always take a carry-on with items to get you through one or two days, especially prescription medication,” says Hatten.
5. Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles, California
How much traffic it got in 2021: 48,007,284 passengers
Thanks to its location on the Pacific Coast in California (a state with a GDP larger than most countries) and its proximity to Hollywood and Disneyland, LAX is one of the most known and traveled airports in the world. It’s busy 24/7.
Pro tip: Sign up for TSA PreCheck to speed through security here or anywhere else in the United States. Check with your credit card first, though, because many cover the enrollment fees as a perk, making it free to sign up, says Hatten.
4. Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) in Chicago, Illinois
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How much traffic it got in 2021: 54,020,399 passengers
O’Hare is the main midcontinent hub for most major commercial airlines in the United States, and it’s currently in the middle of a large expansion. The forthcoming O’Hare Global Terminal, which will open progressively and be completed in 2028, will bring even more traffic.
Pro tip: O’Hare is among the top five airports for the longest security wait times, so signing up for a prescreen security service is a great time-saver, says Hatten, who recommends Clear. “It’s my favorite because it uses retinal scanning technology to identify you and lets you bypass all TSA lines, including PreCheck,” he explains. “You still must complete a security screening, but you go to the front of the line.”
3. Denver International Airport (DEN) in Denver, Colorado
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How much traffic it got in 2021: 58,828,552 passengers
This is the largest airport in North America by land area and the second largest in the world. It’s a major hub for United Airlines and Frontier Airlines, and the largest operating base for Southwest Airlines. It’s also one of only a handful of airports worldwide to offer service to more than 200 destinations.
Pro tip: Download the app for the airline you are flying, and check it often before your flight. “You will receive valuable information about your flight in real time, such as where your flight is coming from, potentially alerting you to a possible delay and maybe even a need to rebook,” Hatten says. You can also sign up for text alerts from most major airlines. If you get delayed, by the way, the airline could owe you money.
2. Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) in Dallas, Texas
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How much traffic it got in 2021: 62,465,756 passengers
DFW is larger than the island of Manhattan, and it’s essentially a city in its own right. It has its own police, fire protection and emergency medical services, and it’s the first airport to have its own freestanding emergency room. It even has its own ZIP code (75261) and United States Postal Service city designation.
Pro tip: Getting caught with contraband in the security line is annoying in any airport, but it can be an even bigger hassle in a busy airport. To help avoid this, Hatten recommends keeping a dedicated carry-on you use only when flying. “Nothing ever gets put into that suitcase that is prohibited by the TSA,” he says. “I never violate my self-imposed rule under any circumstances.”
1. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) in Atlanta, Georgia
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How much traffic it got in 2021: 75,704,760 passengers
Surprised? Why is the Atlanta airport so busy? For one thing, if you’re flying from Atlanta, it takes no more than two hours to reach 80% of the United States, according to the airport’s website. But the bigger secret might have to do with its airlines. Delta Airlines is the world’s second most popular airline, and its headquarters are in Atlanta.
Pro tip: Airline clubs are a secret weapon when it comes to navigating busy airports, says Hatten. Even if you’re not a club member, the person at the club entry desk has up-to-the-minute information not available anywhere else, and they’re usually very helpful, he adds. Here are more airports secrets you’ll definitely want to know.
Stuck waiting at one of the busiest airports in the world?
If so, we have some airplane trivia to keep you entertained. Check out these stories on why it’s so cold on planes, why airplane windows are round and why some airplane seats face the wrong way. You’ll also want to know these things you shouldn’t do on a plane for a smooth ride.
- Airports Council International: “Initial data shows many previous busiest airports have now re-joined top ranks as recovery continues”
- U.S. Government Accountability Office: “COVID-19 Pandemic: Observations on the Ongoing Recovery of the Aviation Industry”
- Statista: “Number of scheduled passengers boarded by the global airline industry from 2004 to 2022”
- Mike Hatten, retired airline pilot, aviation expert and former senior manager of fleet training at a major U.S. airline, and CEO of The Growth Facilitator
- Fox5: “Las Vegas airport sees its busiest month ever in June”
- Business Insider: “California and Florida have 7 of the 10 U.S. airports with the longest TSA wait times — see the list”