Today’s airports are more than just places to buy overpriced phone chargers and wait for rides to far-away destinations. They are tourist attractions in their own right.
As aircraft emerged into the public imagination in the early 20th century, the earliest airstrips were nothing more than grassy fields. However, as more and more people started to travel by air, the hubs required to facilitate such flights also expanded and improved. In the 1930s, airports such as La Guardia in New York and Tempelhof in Berlin soon became major social centres and attracted more visitors than passengers. The age of the airport was well and truly upon us.
Today, although the number includes small airstrips, military airbases and aerodromes, there are around 45,000 ‘airports’ around the globe. In 2019, approximately 4.5 billion passengers travelled by scheduled service on almost 40 million plane departures. Airports are now crucial to the world economy and serve to keep the world connected. As such they have become increasingly large and incredibly busy. Here’s the rundown of the list of busiest airports in the world as well as the world’s biggest airport.
Note: unless otherwise stated, all statistics such as passenger numbers and departures are from 2019.
Location: Bangkok, Thailand | Size: 12.5 square miles | IATA code: BKK
Known unofficially as Bangkok Airport, Suvarnabhumi (literally ‘golden land’) opened in 2006 and is the main hub for Thailand’s flag carrier, Thai Airways International. It has the world’s 11th largest terminal building at 563,000 square metres and from 2006 – 2014 at 132.2 metres, it had the world’s tallest free-standing control tower.
Cairo International Airport
Location: Cairo, Egypt | Size: 14 square miles | IATA code: CAI
Africa’s second-busiest airport behind OR Tambo International in Johannesburg, it is one of the biggest airports in the world but has surprisingly small passenger numbers at around 17 million in 2019. Opened in 1963 replacing the old Heliopolis Airport, CAI is the primary hub for Egypt Air, the nation’s flag carrier airline.
Beijing Daxing International Airport
Location: Beijing, China | Size: 18 square miles | IATA code: PKX
Opened in 2019, the six-spoked airport building nicknamed ‘The Starfish’ was designed by the world-famous Zaha Hadid Architects. It may not be the world’s biggest airport but is considered one of the most beautiful. The $17 billion project features a 700,000 square metre terminal building. On the day China’s newest airport opened, China’s oldest airport, Beijing Nanyuan, closed.
Denver International Airport
Location: Colorado, USA | Size: 52.4 square miles | IATA Code: DEN
DIA as it’s known locally is a stat lover’s dream! The second largest airport in the world is home to the world’s seventh-longest – and North America’s longest – public-use runway (4,877 metres). It is 16th on the list of busiest airports in the world, and with 35,000 employees is Colorado’s largest employer.
King Fahd International Airport
Location: Dammam, Saudi Arabia | Size: 300 square miles | IATA code: DMM
The former US airbase is roughly the same size as New York City and is, by a huge distance, the world’s biggest airport. By way of comparison, the 6.4 acre flight deck of the USS Gerald R Ford, the world’s largest aircraft carrier could fit into the airport an incredible 30,000 times! Despite its gargantuan size, KFIA is only the third-largest airport in Saudi Arabia by passenger volume and operates one of the world’s shortest international flights, the 47 mile hop from Damman to Manama in Bahrain.
The Busiest Airports in the World
The above listed mega hubs may be the biggest airports in the world but which airport tops the 2019 list of busiest airports in the world? Here’s the rundown by passenger numbers:
20. John F. Kennedy International Airport | New York, USA | JFK | 62,551,072
19. Suvarnabhumi Airport | Samut Prakan, Thailand | BKK | 65,421,844
18. Changi Airport | Changi, Singapore | SIN | 68,283,000
17. Indira Gandhi International Airport | Delhi, India | DEL | 68,490,731
16. Denver International Airport | Colorado, USA | DEN | 69,015,703
15. Frankfurt Airport | Frankfurt, Germany | FRA | 70,556,072
14. Seoul Incheon International Airport | Incheon, South Korea | ICN | 71,204,153
13. Hong Kong International Airport | Hong Kong SAR, China | HKG | 71,415,245
12. Schiphol Airport | Amsterdam, The Netherlands | AMS | 71,706,999
11. Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport | Guangzhou, China | CAN | 73,378,475
10. Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport | Texas, USA | DFW | 75,066,956
9. Charles de Gaulle Airport | Roissy-en-France, France | CDG | 76,150,009
8. Shanghai Pudong International Airport | Shanghai, China | PVG | 76,153,455
7. Heathrow Airport | Middlesex, UK | LHR | 80,888,305
6. O’Hare International Airport | Illinois, USA | ORD | 84,372,618
5. Tokyo Haneda Airport | Tokyo, Japan | HND | 85,505,054
4. Dubai, International Airport | Dubai, UAE | DXB | 86,396,757
3. Los Angeles International Airport | California, USA | LAX | 88,068,013
2. Beijing Capital International Airport | Beijing, China | PEK | 100,011,438
And topping the list of busiest airports in the world is…
1. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport | Georgia, USA | ATL | 110,531,300
Up, Up And Away…
By 2040, the number of scheduled air passengers is expected to rise to 10 billion a year and the number of plane departures to around 90 million so it’s likely that the world’s biggest airport a generation from now will be even bigger – with more restaurants, more shops, bigger parks and even more overpriced phone chargers!
Of the world’s independent sovereign states, only five don’t have a single airport – Andorra, Liechtenstein, Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City.