Civil aviation has come a long way from just a few one-time military planes carrying passengers over relatively short distances during the First World War to a multitude of private and public airlines operating in a complex network of flight paths and protocols in the modern era.
Air transportation has gradually evolved to become the most convenient medium of travel both in terms of time and safety. According to the World Bank open data, the number of passengers carried by air transport reached an all-time high of 4.3 billion in 2019, while the number of flight takeoffs reached 38.9 million.
The place where passengers board and get off from airplanes is called an airport or aerodrome. An airport features at least one runway, one operational control tower, hangers, and a tower. Larger airports have extended facilities with a larger landing area for aircraft, taxiways, more sophisticated air traffic control towers, passenger service facilities, such as lounges, restaurants, and shops.
Below, we have compiled a list of the 17 busiest airports in the world by total passenger served. The figured are provided by Airport Council International.
Note: As compared to 2019, drastic changes have been recorded in 2020’s list of busiest airports in the world. It is due to the COVID pandemic, which broke out in early 2020, disrupting the entire airline industry. The list shows a sudden shift in passenger traffic from the Western countries to China. Out of 17 of the busiest airports on this list, ten are located in China, in contrast to only four (including Hong Kong International Airport) the previous year.
17. Hangzhou Xiaoshan International Airport
Hangzhou Xiaoshan International Airport | Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Located In: Xiaoshan District, Hangzhou, China
Number of Passengers Handled: 28.2 million
China’s Hangzhou Xiaoshan International Airport is currently the 17th busiest globally, a distinction it achieved for the first time in its 20 years long history. According to a local report, Hangzhou Xiaoshan International handled more than 35 million passengers in 2017and ranked 10th busiest in the country.
The airport has three terminals, two domestic and one international, and two runways. One of the gates in the international terminal is capable of handling Airbus A380’s, the largest passenger airliner in the world.
16. Indra Gandhi International Airport
Inside IGI Airport Terminal 3 | Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons/Bharata H.S
Located In: New Delhi, India
Number of Passengers Handled: 28.5 million
Indira Gandhi International (IGI) is the largest and busiest airport in India and perhaps the fastest growing airport globally. In 2016, a decade after it was opened for passenger traffic, the airport handled more than 55 million passengers, which went up to 63 million at the end of 2017, a 14% annual jump. IGI airport registered a 10.2% increase (the highest among the top 20 busiest airports) in its passenger traffic in 2018.
Terminal 1 and 2 of the Indra Gandhi International airport are used mainly by domestic flights, which also serve as a hub for many regional airliners. Most of the international traffic is handled by terminal 3. A new terminal 4 is currently in the planning stage. It now has three runways, the longest being 14,534 ft.
15. Los Angeles International Airport
LAX international check-in hall
Located In: Los Angeles, California, United States
Number of Passengers Handled: 28.5 million
Los Angeles International Airport, popularly known as LAX, is located in the Westchester district of Los Angeles and currently is the world’s fifteenth busiest airport. It is the only airport that serves as a primary hub for all of the four largest and most recognized airlines; American, Delta, Alaska, and United Airlines.
LAX is one of the four major international gateways to the United States and the most prominent on the U.S West Coast. It is also one of the busiest airports that are either a point of origin or destination, meaning that most travelers either begin their journey from here or end here rather than using it as a layover airport.
The airport has nine terminals with a total of 133 gates and four runways.
14. Shanghai Pudong International Airport
Pudong International Airport check-in area at Terminal 2 | Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Located In: Pudong District, Shanghai, China
Number of Passengers Handled: 30.4 million
Shanghai Pudong International is the ninth busiest airport in China and the tenth busiest in Asia. It’s one of the two international airports serving Shanghai Municipality and its nearby areas.
The airport has two terminals, Terminal 1 and 2, and four operational runways. Terminal 2 is reportedly capable of handling about 60 million passengers annually. Shanghai Pudong International also features the world’s largest satellite concourse, located over an area of 622,000 m2. The independent concourse is larger than Terminal 2.
Pudong International serves as a secondary hub for China’s biggest airline and flag carrier Air China. It’s a primary hub for China Eastern Airlines, China’s second-biggest airlines, and Shanghai Airlines.
13. O’Hare International Airport
Chicago O’Hare International Airport Terminal 3 main hall | Image Courtesy: Flickr
Located At: Chicago, Illinois, United States
Number of Passengers Handled: 30.8 million
The origin of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport can be traced back to the 1930s when it was developed for conducting military operations during the Second World War. By 1955, the airport was fully converted to commercial operations that led to a series of expansions in the late-1950s and 1960s.
An influx of domestic and international flights eventually led O’Hare International to become the world’s busiest airport in the mid-1960s. It held this position until 1998.
Today, the airport has four passenger terminals and eight runways. Other facilities include the Hilton Chicago O’Hare hotel, a dedicated cargo area, and other passenger services.
In 2019, O’Hare International Airport was ranked 6th busiest globally and carried a total of 919,704 aircraft operations, the most by any airport in the world.
12. Tokyo Haneda/International Airport
Departure counters at Haneda Airport Terminal 3 | Image Courtesy: Wikimedia
Located In: Ōta, Tokyo, Japan
Number of Passengers Handled: 30.9 million
Tokyo International Airport, also known as Haneda Airport, is the largest and busiest airport in Japan. It is one of the two major airports that serve the Greater Tokyo Metropolitan area, the other being Narita International Airport. Between the two of them, Tokyo have the third-busiest city airport system in the world.
For three decades, between 1978 and 2010, Haneda Airport handled mostly domestic traffic. However, after the opening of a dedicated international terminal (Terminal 3) in 2010, the number of international traffic has increased drastically. Japan’s civil aviation authority is promoting Haneda Airport as the primary airport for international flights.
The airport serves as a primary hub for two of the country’s largest airlines: Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways.
11. Xi’an Xianyang International Airport
Departure hall at Xi’an Xianyang International Airport
Located In: Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, China
Number of Passengers Handled: 31 million
Xi’an Xianyang International airport is one of the important and largest hubs in Northwest China. In 2019, the airport was ranked 7th busiest in China and 40th busiest globally by passenger traffic. It is also one of the busiest by cargo traffic in the country.
The airport’s current capacity is close to 34 million passengers annually, about 65 percent of which is handled by Terminal 3 (22 million capacity) alone. Furthermore, one of the two runways of Xi’an Xianyang International airport can operate larger airliners, including the Airbus A380.
10. Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport
Domestic flight gates at Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport
Located In: Shanghai Municipality, China
Number of Passengers Handled: 31.1 million
Shanghai Hongqiao International airport is among the ten of 17 busiest airports in the world, located in China. A majority of the traffic at Shanghai Hongqiao is domestic or regional, and only a few international destinations are available.
The airport is situated in Shanghai’s Hongqiao Subdistrict (within Changning District and Minhang Districts), a few kilometers away from the city center. It is also close to Shanghai Pudong International airport.
In 2010, the airport opened a new terminal (Terminal 2) and a second runway for a reported cost of 15.3 billion yuan or $2 billion. The new terminal is about four times as large as the old one and can handle 40 million passengers annually.
9. Kunming Changshui International Airport
Kunming Changshui International Airport waiting area | Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons/Windmemories
Located At: Kunming, Yunnan Province, China
Number of Passengers Handled: 32.9 million
Kunming Changshui International Airport is located northeast of Kunming, the largest city and capital of Yunnan Province in southwest China. It replaced Kunming Wujiaba International airport, which was built in the 1920s.
In 2020, Kunming Changshui International was ranked the 9th busiest airport globally with nearly 33 million passengers. Previously (in 2019), it was ranked 37th overall. The airport has two asphalt runways and one of the largest terminals in China, spread over 135 acres or 548,300 m2 area.
It serves as a hub for several domestic and low-cost carriers, including Kunming Airlines, Sichuan, and Hongtu Airlines.
8. Denver International Airport
Denver International Airport Concourse C and Air Traffic Control Tower | Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Located At: Denver, Colorado, the United States
Number of Passengers Handled: 33.7 million
Denver International Airport, located near Downtown Denver, Colorado, is currently the third busiest airport in the United States. It is the second-largest airport in the world (after King Fahd Airport in Saudi Arabia) and the largest in the United States.
The airport has six runways serving a single terminal with three concourses. The terminal is named after Elrey Borge Jeppesen, an aviation pioneer known for his contribution to the field of air navigation. It is also known for its distinctive peaked-roof design that resembles teepees or tipi used by the Native Americans as shelters.
An expansion project is underway in which all three concourses of Jeppesen terminal are to be expanded with additional gates and minor renovations around the facility.
Denver International Airport is an important hub for low-cost carriers Frontier Airlines and United Airlines. Moreover, the airport is the largest employer in the State of Colorado.
7. Beijing Capital International Airport
Beijing Capital International Airport Terminal 1 (right side) and 2 | Image Courtesy: Wikimedia
Located At: Chaoyang–Shunyi District, Beijing, China
Number of Passengers Handled: 34.5 million
Beijing Capital International is one of the two international airports serving the national capital of China, the other being Beijing Daxing International. In the previous rankings (2019), China’s Beijing Capital International airport was the second busiest in the world by total passenger movement and 15th busiest by total cargo traffic.
The airport was initially established in 1958 with a small, single terminal building. Today, however, it consists of three large terminals. Terminal 1, which replaced the original terminal, is the smallest of the three and handles only domestic traffic. The second and third terminals mostly serve international flights.
After its completion in 2008, terminal 3 became the largest airport passenger terminal complex in the world. Currently, it is ranked 9th.
6. Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport
Airport’s Terminal 3 departure area | Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons/Juukeihc
Located At: Yubei District, Chongqing, China
Number of Passengers Handled: 34.9 million
The modern Chongqing Jiangbei International airport became operational on 22 January 1990, while its origin can be traced back to the 1920s. It serves Chongqing, the largest municipality in southwest China. In 2020, the airport was the 6th busiest airport globally, 42 positions higher than the year before.
Chongqing Jiangbei International has three operational runways and the same number of terminals. Terminal 3A, the largest them with a floor space of about 180 acres or 725,000 sq mt., can alone handle 45 million passengers in a year.
The current expansion plan in place will add a new terminal and a runway to the existing facilities.
5. Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport
Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport | Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Located At: Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, China
Number of Passengers Handled: 37.9 million
Shenzhen Bao’an, alongside Guangzhou and Hong Kong International, is one of the three major international airports in the densely populated Pearl River Delta Metropolitan region in Southern China. The airport is a hub for Shenzhen Airlines and UPS Airlines, the fourth-largest cargo airline in the world.
It has only one operational terminal, designated as ‘Terminal 3,’ after three of its previous terminals were close permanently in 2013. Previously (in 2019), Shenzhen Bao’an International airport was ranked 26th busiest airport in the world.
4. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport
Aerial view of Dallas/Fort Worth airport | Image Courtesy: Todd MacDonald/Flickr
Located At: Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, United States
Number of Passengers Handled: 39.3 million
Dallas /Fort Worth (DFW) International is currently the second busiest airport in the United States and the busiest in the state of Texas. Located between two large cities of Dallas and Fort Worth, the entire airport is larger than the island of Manhattan. In 2019, it ranked 10th on the list of busiest airports.
The airport serves as a major hub for American Airlines, the world’s largest airlines by total passenger carried, fleet size, and brand value. The airport has seven runways, five terminals, and a total of 165 service gates.
DFW provides services to 260 destinations, of which 182 are domestic and 62 international (as of 2020).
3. Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport
Moving walkaway at Chengdu Shuangliu International | Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Located At: Shuangliu-Wuhou, Sichuan Province, China
Number of Passengers Handled: 40.7 million
Chengdu Shuangliu International is currently the third busiest airport in the world. It’s a vital and most important hub in western China. In 2019, the airport was 24th busiest in the world and fourth busiest in mainland China.
There are two terminals that are served by two different runways. Terminal 2 is twice as big as terminal 1 and can handle 50 million passengers in a year. The second runway, which entered into service in 2008, can handle an A380.
In 2014, Chengdu Shuangliu International became the first hub to facilitate non-stop flights between the United States (San Francisco) and China. It serves as a primary base for several popular airlines, including Air China, China Eastern, Shenzhen, and Sichuan Airlines.
2. Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International
A view from Hartsfield-Jackson International airport gates | Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Located at: Atlanta, United States
Number of Passengers Handled: 42.9 million
In 2020, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International airport was ranked the second busiest airport in the world. Previously, it was the world’s busiest airport for two decades, from 1998 to 2019.
Hartsfield-Jackson International is extended over 4,700 acres (19 square kilometers) of land. It has two terminals served by seven concourses that have a total of 195 gates. There are five parallel runways, the longest of them being 12,000ft in length.
According to the United States Department of Transportation, Hartsfield-Jackson ranked seventh among twenty busiest U.S airports in 2017 by international passenger traffic. That year, the airport served roughly over 104 million passengers.
Hartsfield-Jackson International airport is a primary hub for Delta Airlines, the world’s largest airline by revenue, and a small-scale hub for low-cost carrier airlines Southwest and Frontier.
1. Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport
FedEx Asia-Pacific hub at Guangzhou Baiyun International | Image Courtesy: Meihe Chen
Located At: Guangdong province, China
Number of Passengers Handled: 43.7 million
From the 11th busiest airport in the world a year before, Guangzhou Baiyun International became the world’s busiest hub in 2020. This drastic change is a result of the COVID-19 pandemic that disrupted air transportation globally.
In 2019, Guangzhou Baiyun International was the third busiest airport in China by both passengers and cargo traffic. The airport has two terminals, terminals 1 and 2, the latter being one of the world’s largest airport terminals (658,700 m2) by floor area. It has three operational runways with two more under planning. The airport serves as the primary hub for multiple domestic airlines, including Hainan, China Southern, and Shenzhen Airlines.
An ongoing expansion plan will increase Guangzhou Baiyun International’s capacity to handle 120 million passengers and close to 4 million tons fright a year.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which was the Busiest Airport in 2020?
Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International in Atlanta, the United States, was ranked the busiest airport in 2019. That year, it handled more than 110 million passengers compared to 45 million in 2020.
Which is the Busiest Airport by Cargo Traffic In 2020-2021?
Memphis International Airport, located in Memphis (the second-largest city in the state of Tennessee), is currently the busiest cargo airport in the United States and the world. It handled over 4.6 million tonnes of cargo.
Which Country has The Most Airports?
The United States has about 19,636 airports, as of 2019, the most in the world. Out of these, about 14,556 airports are designated for private use only. The next on this list is Brazil, with almost 4,000 airports. It is followed by Mexico, Canada, and Russia.