As any air traveler can tell you, airports are getting busier and busier. But which airport is the busiest in the world?

As a child, my fascination with aviation was kindled by numerous flights from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (KORD). Chicago’s central location in the continental United States made it an aviation crossroads, and helped give O’Hare the status of the world’s busiest airport at the time, a title that I took pride in, as my brother and I added, if only in a minuscule way, to the flood of passengers traveling to points around the globe. In the years since, O’Hare has slipped, and is now number six in the Airport Council International (ACI) rankings of busiest airports based on the number of passengers starting or ending their journey at, or making a connection through, a particular airport. Today, the honor of world’s busiest goes to Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (KATL).

(Google Earth)

Looking at data from ACI for 2016, a total of 104,171,935 passengers passed through the gates and terminals of KATL. That is a rise of 2.6% over the previous year, which means that the world’s busiest airport is only getting busier. KATL also handled 898,356 landings and takeoffs last year, an increase of 1.8% over 2015. KATL has held the record for passenger numbers since 1998, and has held the record for the number of landings and takeoffs since 2005, with the exception of 2014, when it came second to O’Hare.


These impressive numbers are possible due to KATL’s strategic location on the eastern edge of the United States. Not only is it well-positioned for international flights eastward to Europe and Africa, or westward to Asia, KATL also lies within a two-hour flight of 80% of the US population, meaning many domestic flights pass through KATL on their way to other destinations. With 207 domestic and international gates, KATL also serves as the corporate and operational hub for Delta Airlines, which boasts 1,000 departures to 217 destinations every day.

Delta Air Lines Tech Ops facility at KATL (Photo by the author)
(Photo via
The 400-foot tall control tower, the tallest in the United States. (Photo by qwesy qwesy via Wikimedia Commons)

As for the runners up, Beijing Capital International Airport and Dubai International Airport hosted 94,393,454 and 83,654,250 passengers respectively last year, but both are also growing at a faster rate than KATL, an indicator of the rapid expansion of business and leisure travel, and the booming economies of China and Dubai.

Connecting Flights

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