This Airport Was Just Named World’s Busiest (for the 21st Year in a Row)

From the busiest airport in 2017 to, well, the busiest airport in 2018, Atlanta retains its top spot.
Last updated Dec 10, 2019 | By Matt Miczulski
Passengers walking through a crowded airport

FinanceBuzz is reader-supported. We may receive compensation from the products and services mentioned in this story, but the opinions are the author's own. Compensation may impact where offers appear. We have not included all available products or offers. Learn more about how we make money and our editorial policies.

“The busiest airport in the world is whichever airport I’m at.”

If it feels that way all too often, you might be spending too much time at Atlanta International Airport (ATL). Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport was recently named the world’s busiest airport by the Airports Council International (ACI) — for the 21st year in a row.

According to the ACI’s World Airport Traffic Report, more than 107 million passengers flew through Atlanta in 2018. That’s up 3.3% from 2017. Globally, passenger traffic in airports grew to 8.8 billion last year, a 6.4% increase.

“The World Airport Traffic Report shows that, even as smaller airports around the world continue to make strong gains, the largest hub airports continue to grow,” said ACI World Director Angela Gittens in a press release Tuesday.

Atlanta had a nearly 7 million passenger lead over Beijing (PEK), which was the second busiest airport, and saw over 18 million more passengers than Dubai (DXB), which takes up the number three spot.

Atlanta’s dominance can be explained by its location as a major connecting hub that sits within a two-hour flight of 80% of the US population, as CNN points out. It’s also worth pointing out that Atlanta is the 14th most expensive airport to fly from in the US, according to the FinanceBuzz 2019 US airport cost rankings. The average airfare for Atlanta is $360.85.

While Atlanta held onto the number one spot for passenger traffic, Chicago O’Hare International Airport jumped to the top spot for total aircraft activity, with nearly 904,000 aircraft movements (take-offs and landings) in 2018, an increase of 4.2%.

Airports in emerging markets saw the fastest growth, with 12 out of the top 30 being located in either China or India. Some of these airports saw more than 20% increases in passenger traffic since the previous year.

The world’s busiest airports 

Rank

Airport

Number of passengers

1

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International (Georgia, US)

107,394,029

2

Beijing Capital International (China)

100,983,290

3

Dubai International (United Arab Emirates)

89,149,387

4

Los Angeles International (California, US)

87,534,384

5

Tokyo Haneda International (Japan)

86,942,794

6

Chicago O'Hare International (Illinois, US)

83,245,472

7

London Heathrow (United Kingdom)

80,126,320

8

Hong Kong International (China)

74,515,927

9

Shanghai Pudong International (China)

74,006,331

10

Paris Charles de Gaulle (France)

72,229,723

11

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (Netherlands)

71,053,147

12

New Delhi's Indira Gandhi International (India)

69,900,938

13

Guangzhou Baiyun International (China)

69,743,211

14

Frankfurt am Main Airport (Germany)

69,510,269

15

Dallas/Fort Worth International (Texas, US)

69,112,607

16

Istanbul Atatürk International (Turkey)

68,360,648

17

Seoul Incheon International (South Korea)

68,350,784

18

Jakarta Soekarno-Hatta International (Indonesia)

65,667,506

19

Singapore Changi International (Singapore)

65,628,000

20

Denver International (Colorado, US)

64,494,613

Take the stress out of busy airports

One of the only ways to make busy airports less unpleasant is to plan ahead and account for the extra demands you’ll likely face. Other than that, you’re at the mercy of the airport gods.

For the things that are in your control, here are some tips to help make crowded airports more bearable:

  • Fly early morning and midweek: If you can be flexibility about when you fly, consider early morning airfare and even flying midweek. Demands for these flights are typically lower since you don’t have to fight the weekend crowd, and the cost of airfare often follows suit.
  • Get TSA Precheck: Passing a background check and getting TSA PreCheck will speed up your airport security experience. According to the Transportation Security Administration website, 93% of TSA PreCheck passengers waited less than five minutes in August 2019. You’ll even be able to keep your shoes on.
  • Pack light: Checking a bag can tack on a lot of time on both the front and back end of your trip. If you know you’re traveling through a busy airport, packing a small carry-on can make it easier for you to move through the airport as swiftly as possible. 
  • Check TSA wait times: We’ve all played this guessing game — contemplating when to arrive at the airport to breeze through security but not have to spend hours waiting at the gate. Luckily, some airports — including Atlanta International Airport — have security wait times on their website. Use this information when deciding how early before your flight you should arrive.
  • Know your terminal: While your flight can change terminals on a dime, familiarizing yourself with an unfamiliar airport can save you from straining your neck to find a sign that points you in the right direction. Also, make sure there’s no unexpected shuttle you have to jump on to reach your terminal.
  • Pack a snack to avoid lines: There’s nothing worse than waiting in a mile-long line to buy a sub-par sandwich. Airport food isn’t exactly cheap, either. Packing your own snacks will not only save you money but also time.
  • Check-in early online: Check-in online and you can avoid having to stand in line at the airline’s ticket counter to get your boarding pass. These lines are often long, especially at peak travel times. You can also get to the security checkpoint faster.

Bottom line

If you have to travel through some of these crowded airports, do what you can to avoid any hiccups. Of course, some things are simply out of your control.

However, now that you know which airports are the busiest, plan your travel accordingly. That way, you can spend less time at the airport, potentially save on airfare, and have more time to do whatever it is that’s taking you on your travels.    

#1 Premium Travel Credit Card

Benefits

  • 50,000 point sign-up bonus
  • 10X points on select streaming services (up to $1,500) from July 1, 2020 to September 30, 2020
  • 5X points with Instacart (up to $3,000), and at gas stations (up to $1,500) from July 1, 2020 to September 30, 2020
  • 3X points on travel and at restaurants
  • $60 annual DoorDash credit in 2020 and 2021
  • Priority Pass airport lounge access