These Are the World’s Busiest Airports—a List That Might Surprise You

Over the course of the pandemic, an entirely new lineup of the world’s busiest hubs has emerged. Here’s what to know about the most bustling airports.

An interior lobby area of Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport

More than 75 million people flew through Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport last year.

Photo by Nadezda Murmakova/Shutterstock

The pandemic completely altered air traffic patterns the world over. Not only have fewer people been flying since early 2020, but the places they are flying to and from also have changed considerably as travelers have faced global public health concerns, COVID protocols at the borders, reduced international flight capacity, and inflationary airfares as travel rebounds.

Three years ago (the last time AFAR covered the world’s busiest airport rankings), the list was a true mix of U.S. and international airports with more global hubs on it than U.S. ones. Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, Dubai International Airport, London Heathrow, and Paris Charles de Gaulle were all in the top 10. This time none of them made the list. When the Airports Council International (ACI) released its latest rankings earlier this year, 8 of the top 10 busiest airports in the world were all in the United States, and the remaining 2 were in China (and not in Shanghai or Beijing).

These were the rankings released in 2019 (based on 2018 airport passenger traffic numbers):

  1. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (107.4 million)
  2. Beijing Capital International Airport (101 million)
  3. Dubai International Airport (89.1 million)
  4. Los Angeles International Airport (87.5 million)
  5. Tokyo’s Haneda Airport (86.9 million)
  6. Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (83.2 million)
  7. London’s Heathrow Airport (80.1 million)
  8. Hong Kong International Airport (74.5 million)
  9. Shanghai Pudong International Airport (74 million)
  10. Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport (72.2 million)

This year, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport still tops the list (the only constant—although with considerably lower numbers). More than 75 million passengers flew through Atlanta in 2021, according to ACI’s annual world traffic report, released this past summer. That was a 76 percent increase over the nearly 43 million passengers who traveled through Atlanta in 2020, bringing the southern hub back into the top spot after being briefly ousted by Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport in southern China in 2020. In 2021, Guangzhou fell to the eighth busiest airport followed by Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport in the ninth spot—the only non-U.S. airports to make the top ten.

As more travelers return to the skies, chances are many of you will find yourselves traveling through the world’s most popular terminals. Whether you only have a few minutes to spare or end up with hours to wander the gates, here is a brief guide to the world’s 10 busiest airports.

1. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (75.7 million)

Artworks line a passageway at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport

Decent food and artwork help to elevate the airport experience in Atlanta.

Photo by Shutterstock

With 75.7 million passengers passing through its terminals last year, Atlanta remains a major connecting hub for air travel to and within the United States—especially for those traveling with Delta and its partner airlines. But it has a lot more going for it than just sheer numbers of passengers.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport has been seriously stepping up its culinary game in recent years. Its more than 100 food and beverage establishments include acclaimed upscale American restaurant One Flew South, located in Concourse E, as well as a Shake Shack in Concourse A. If you’re in Concourse C, head to the the Varsity for chili dogs or the Original El Taco for an innovative Mexican menu (fried chicken tacos, anyone?). You can also fuel up on Southern comfort food at Chicken + Beer in Concourse D.

Atlanta’s ambitious art program includes both permanent and rotating exhibits. When it comes to the airport lounges, this being Delta’s HQ, there’s at least one Delta Sky Club in all seven of the concourses (A, B, C, D, E, F, and T). There’s also an American Airlines Admirals Club, United Club, and the Club at ATL, available to Priority Pass holders and to those who purchase a day pass.

2. Dallas–Fort Worth International Airport (62.5 million)

Get some fresh airs and views of the aircraft at DFW's Founder's Plaza observation area.

Get some fresh airs and views of the aircraft at DFW’s Founder’s Plaza observation area.

Photo by Shutterstock

Dallas–Fort Worth International Airport could actually be considered a small city (it even has its own zip code), spanning more than 26 square miles (larger than Manhattan) with five terminals and 168 gates. The airport recently received a $35 million federal grant to construct a zero-carbon electrical plant in order to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2030.

If you find yourself with extra time in this sprawling travel complex, the good news is there are some decent eateries. If you’re in Terminal A and looking for a nice sit-down meal, head to Ling & Louie’s for elevated Asian cuisine. If you want one last taste of barbecue before you take off, hit up the Salt Lick BBQ or fill up with a serious burger at Twisted Root. In Terminal B, you can sip a glass of wine in a sophisticated space at Decanted and fill up on smoked meats and sides at Cousins BBQ. There’s an always reliable Shake Shack in Terminal C, the Fort Worth coffeehouse Brewed in Terminal D, and Blue Mesa Taco & Tequila Bar in Terminal E for Mexican-inspired food and drinks.

Lounges include American Airlines Flagship First lounge and Admirals Clubs, Delta Sky Club, United Club, Capital One Lounge, Centurion Lounge, and the Club at DFW for Priority Pass holders.

Some fun additional amenities are Spa Here, for massages, haircuts, and nail treatments in Terminal C; Minute Suites for napping in Terminal A; and Gameway, a video game lounge, in Terminal B. There’s also a children’s play area (courtesy of McDonald’s) in Terminal D near gate D8.

3. Denver International Airport (58.8 million)

An aerial view of Denver International Airport

Denver’s airport recently unveiled a new expansion.

Photo by Shutterstock

This fall, Denver International Airport completed a capacity expansion project that added 39 new gates to the mountain hub, bringing the total number of gates across the airport’s three terminals to 90 (or a 30 percent increase over its previous capacity). The airport also now has three outdoor decks where travelers can soak up some fresh air and Colorado views, as well as family seating areas, nursing rooms, new bathroom facilities, charging stations, workstations, and rest areas.

Denver is a big transfer hub so even if you aren’t planning to fly to or from Denver anytime soon, you could very well be flying through. If you want to grab some decent grub during your layover, there are solid options in each terminal. In Concourse A, Breckenridge Brewery pours a lot of local brews, and Brothers BBQ will fill you up with overflowing barbecue sandwiches. If you’re looking for a quick bite, hit up the Denver Central Market near gate A48 with a Culture Meat & Cheese outpost, SK Provisions that serves breakfast, Sushi Rama, and Vero Italian. In Concourse B, where United flights take off, Snooze serves up serious breakfast dishes, and for a nice sit-down meal for breakfast, lunch, or dinner snag a table at Elway’s. There’s also a CRÚ Food and Wine Bar and a Shake Shack. If you’re flying out of Concourse C, try to make some time for a meal or drink at the super colorful Root Down, which serves locally sourced meals alongside cocktails, wine, and craft brews. You can also opt for Tamales La Casita for filling Mexican fare followed by Little Man Ice Cream for a sweet treat before you fly.

Another feature of the Denver airport is the outdoor plaza that hosts an ice skating rink and live music performances during the holidays from mid-November through early January. Travelers can borrow a free pair of skates inside the Westin hotel at the plaza.

The Denver hub is also known for its extensive art collection. There’s an American Airlines Admirals Club, American Express Centurion Lounge, Delta Sky Club, and a United Club and new United Club Fly concept.

4. Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (54 million)

A long concourse with people moving about at Chicago O'Hare International Airport

Millions of travelers fly to and through O’Hare each year.

Photo by Shutterstock

This busy midwestern hub with 193 gates and four terminals (Terminals 1, 2, 3, and 5—there is no Terminal 4) has been quietly upping its game. For one, the food options are a lot better than they used to be. That’s mostly thanks to the celebrity chef Rick Bayless–backed Tortas Frontera. There are three locations at O’Hare (in Terminals 1, 3, and 5) where you can get the perfectly toasted tortas. For lighter fare, hit up Wicker Park Seafood and Sushi Bar (in Terminals 1 and 2).

If you’re looking to work up a sweat between flights, the Hilton Athletic Club inside the Hilton Chicago O’Hare Airport Hotel sells day passes, which include access to a steam room, sauna, lap pool, and locker rooms. You can also head to the yoga room and urban garden in Terminal 3 or try the Terminal Getaway Spa in Terminal 1 for some preflight zen. A family lounge in Terminal 2 near gate F1 includes a play area for kids and there are nursing rooms in all four terminals.

When it comes to airport lounges, O’Hare is home to an American Airlines Flagship Lounge and an Admirals Club, a Delta Sky Club, and a United Club and a Polaris Lounge.

5. Los Angeles International Airport (48 million)

An exterior view of the Tom Bradley international terminal at Los Angeles International Airport

LAX is in the midst of a major overhaul.

Photo by Shutterstock

LAX, as it’s commonly called (also the airport code), is in the midst of a major transformation. The massive West Coast airport recently broke ground on several major construction projects that promise to alleviate a lot of the traffic issues the airport faces. They include an electric rail system that will provide public transportation access to and from the airport and is slated for completion in 2023. And LAX has been transforming in other ways as well.

What was once a dearth of options throughout the airport has evolved into a respectable roster of dining experiences. Standouts include fast-casual seafood joint Slapfish and elevated dining at SeaLegs Wine Bar (both in Terminal 2). You can get inventive burgers at Umami Burger and creative Mexican cuisine at Border Grill in the Tom Bradley International Terminal. Or head to Terminal 5 for some Southern California–inspired comfort food and refreshing drinks at Lemonade. Wahoo’s Fish Taco in Terminal 6 is a well-loved Southern California fish taco stand.

Once you’ve fueled up, be sure to check out some of the art installations throughout the airport. Every major U.S. carrier has one or more lounges at LAX, as do several international carriers, credit card companies, and airline alliance networks.

6. Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina (43.3 million)

A pianist at a grand piano inside Charlotte Douglas International Airport

More passengers travel through this North Carolina airport than you might realize.

Photo by Shutterstock

Perhaps one of the most surprising airports on the list is Charlotte Douglas International Airport, located in central North Carolina. In 2021, the little airport that could saw more than 43 million passengers travel through its five terminals with 114 gates that serve 183 direct routes, 36 of which are to international destinations. (OK, so it’s not so little.) All of the major U.S. carriers operate flights to and from Charlotte, which is in the midst of a $600 million lobby expansion project that will bring 366,000 square feet of new and updated space to the airport’s entrance area. When the project is completed in 2025, Charlotte will feature new ticket counters, new art pieces, charging stations, additional security checkpoints, and new presecurity shopping and dining venues.

Have a flight to, from, or through Charlotte? Be sure to grab a craft beer at NoDa Brewing or Wicked Weed Brewing. For breakfast head to Rhino Market in Concourse A. There’s also Bad Daddy’s for a burger or Bojangles for biscuits if you want one last taste of North Carolina for the road.

The airport is home to American Airlines Admirals Clubs and an American Express Centurion Lounge. There’s a Minute Suite for proper resting, XpresSpa for some preflight pampering, and a Gameway outpost for gamers.

7. Orlando International Airport in Florida (40.35 million passengers)

overhead view of a seating area at Orlando International Airport

Lovers of theme parks and Florida sunshine are likely familiar with Orlando’s airport.

Photo by Shutterstock

This bustling hub that serves residents of central Florida and theme park lovers alike officially opened an entire new terminal, Terminal C, in December 2022, the largest expansion project in the airport’s history. The 300-acre terminal features 15 new gates and will allow the airport to accommodate an additional 10 to 12 million annual passengers. Terminal C features 35 new shops and drink and dining venues.

Those traveling through Orlando will find ample airport eatery standbys—Starbucks, Dunkin’, and fast-food outlets aplenty. If you’re looking for a well-designed space for a decent sit-down meal, head to one of the Cask & Larder outposts for a solid selection of Cuban, American, and southern-influenced cuisine (located in Terminal C’s Palm Court and in Terminal A in the 100–129 gate area). For Cuban comfort food, find one of the Zaza locations in Terminal A. There’s also a Desano Pizzeria for authentic Neopolitan pies and a Shake Shack in the Terminal C Palm Court. Additional promising coffee shops, breweries, bakeries, and restaurants are slated to open soon in Terminal C.

Lounges include an American Airlines Admirals Club, Delta Sky Club, and United Club in Terminal A, and the Club MCO and Plaza Premium Lounge with available day passes to book.

There are several XpresSpa locations throughout Terminal A and endless shopping throughout the hub for those who want one last theme park souvenir or need new luggage, sunglasses, socks, jewelry, or travel outfits.

8. Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport (40.26 million)

An art installation featuring a man-made grove of trees at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport

Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport is home to several unique and interesting art pieces.

Photo by Shutterstock

Located in China’s southern Guangdong province, Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport is the main hub for China Southern Airlines. The relatively new airport, located 17 miles from downtown Guangzhou, opened in 2004, and replaced the previous terminal building that was 72 years old.

As for passing the time here, there are some standard fast-food joints like McDonald’s and KFC, Starbucks for your caffeine fix, and numerous Asian eateries scattered across the two terminals. There’s also a fairly impressive collection of art, including passageways that light up, silver “cloud heart” sculptures, and a graffiti wall.

9. Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport (40.1 million)

Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport


Chengdu is the capital of China’s Sichuan province, and its main airport is the largest in western China, located 10 miles from central Chengdu. Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport consists of two terminals. Numerous Asian carriers fly to and through the hub, as well as United Airlines, Etihad Airways, and Qatar Airways.

There is no shortage of shopping options throughout the airport for travelers who want to pass the time browsing stores. For dining, the majority of the venues feature Chinese or Asian cuisine, and there are also some fast-food spots and Starbucks for coffee and snacks. There are some napping and rest areas as well as the Chengdu Airport Hotel located opposite the Terminal 1 building, for those with longer layovers.

10. Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas (39.75 million)

Slot machines at Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas

Of course there are slot machines. This is the gateway to Vegas after all.

Photo by Shutterstock

In December 2021, the former McCarran International Airport officially changed its name to Harry Reid International Airport, named after the Nevada congressman who served from 1983 until 2017. The airport is located in southern Nevada and is known most for being the gateway to Las Vegas, with its famous strip of over-the-top hotels visible from the airfield.

The airport consists of two terminals, confusingly Terminal 1 and Terminal 3 (there’s no Terminal 2) and they aren’t physically connected, so it’s important to know exactly which one you’re flying out of.

If you find yourself with time to spare at the Vegas hub, there’s a Shake Shack in Terminal 1’s B concourse, a Brookwood Farms serving up North Carolina–style barbecue in the C concourse, and a Ruby’s Diner in the D concourse, in addition to the parade of airport regulars. Hit up Sprinkles in the C concourse for some cupcakes to go. In Terminal 3, your best bets are Metro Pizza for Brooklyn-style slices, Ruby’s Dinette for classic diner grub, and Rachel’s Kitchen for grab-and-go salads and sandwiches (all in Concourse D).

There’s also a United Club and Centurion Lounge in Terminal 1, and if you want to sneak in a few more rounds at the slot machines, there is no shortage of gaming lounges throughout the terminals.

Curious what the world’s other busiest airports are? Here is the remaining list of the top 20:

11. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (38.8 million)

12. Miami International Airport (37.3 million)

13. New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport (37.1 million)

14. Istanbul’s Atatürk International Airport (36.9 million)

15. China’s Shenzhen Baoan International Airport (36.3 million)

16. Seattle–Tacoma International Airport (36.1 million)

17. Mexico City’s Aeropuerto Internacional Benito Juárez (36 million)

18. China’s Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport (35.7 million)

19. Shanghai Pudong International Airport (33.2 million)

20. Beijing Capital International Airport (32.6 million)

This story was originally published in August 2019 and was updated on December 9, 2022, with current information.

Michelle Baran is the senior travel news editor at AFAR where she oversees breaking news, travel intel, pandemic coverage, airline, cruise, and consumer travel news. Baran joined AFAR in August 2018 after an 11-year run as a senior editor and reporter at leading travel industry newspaper Travel Weekly.
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