The busiest airports in the world are major connecting hubs for travellers from around the globe.
The list below consists of airports ranked by the volume of passengers. This includes all departing, arriving, transferring and direct transfer passengers.
The ranking is based on the figures from the last report released by the Airports Council International (ACI), from 2021. A lot changed since the 2019 report because of the COVID crisis which majorly affected the air travel industry.
As a result, the current ranking includes mostly airports located in the United States. European and Asian leaders like London Heathrow International Airport, Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, Beijing Capital International Airport, Dubai International Airport, and Tokyo Haneda Airport were left out of the top 10 busiest airports.
We have a separate article ranking the biggest airports in the world by area - make sure you check it out.
#1 Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), Atlanta, US
Hartsfield-Jackson has been the world’s biggest airport by passenger traffic since 2000. It kept the crown even after the COVID pandemic and served almost 76 million passengers in 2021.
It also holds the first place for busiest airport in the world by aircraft movements.
The airport offers services to both domestic and international destinations in five continents: North America, South America, Europe, Africa and Asia.
ATL serves as the main hub of Delta Air Lines, which operate 72% of its flights.
#2 Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), Texas, US
Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport is the largest hub for American Airlines and served over 62 million passengers in 2021.
This huge American airport is also the third busiest in the world by aircraft movements. It is the ninth busiest international gateway in the US and the second busiest international gateway in Texas.
#3 Denver International Airport (DEN), Colorado, US
Not only does Denver rank as the 3rd busiest airport in the world with its almost 59 million passengers in 2021 but it is also the world’s second biggest airport by surface area (after King Fahd International Airport in Dammam, Saudi Arabia).
The Colorado airport serves as the largest operating base for Southwest airlines and is also a major hub for United and Frontier airlines.
Something that distinguishes Denver Airport is the building’s design with its white roof towers which were inspired by the nearby snowy Rocky mountains and allow lots of natural light into the airport.
#4 Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD), Illinois, US
Chicago O’Hare was the most used airport in the world between 1963 and 1998. With over 54 million passengers served in 2021, it is the fourth busiest airport globally.
According to the ACI data, it is also the second busiest airport in the world by aircraft movements.
After becoming a symbol of the jet area in the 1960s and 1970s, America’s second largest airport continues to be a pioneer of innovations.
It was the first airport in the world to host an apiary which became home to more than a million bees. The bees were kept by former convicts from the Chicago, Illinois area in a successful effort to teach the former prisoners new skills and help them become more employable.
In addition, the airport hosts the first aeroponic garden. Its produce supplies the various restaurants in the terminal.
ORD is a major hub for United Airlines and American Airlines.
#5 Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), California, US
This airport served more than 48 million passengers in 2021, becoming the fifth busiest airport in the world. It is also the sixth busiest airport by aircraft movement worldwide.
LAX is a major connection point for international flights, particularly to other countries in North America, South America and Asia.
As it is by far the largest airport on the East Coast, it serves as a hub for all major US airlines.
If you ever find yourself in the area, make sure to pronounce the letters of LAX separately. The airport’s designation used to be just LA until the 1930s. Aviation’s rapid growth, however, brought the need for three-letter identifiers, so an “X” was added.
#6 Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT), North Carolina, US
Charlotte Douglas might be a surprising participant in the current ranking, however it did serve more than 43 million passengers in 2021 which is an impressive number for the North Carolina airport.
Charlotte hosts flights by all major American airlines and should not be underestimated: there is an expansion project underway which will add an additional 336, 000 square feet of space to the airport’s surface area. 600 million US dollars were invested in the planned expansion which is to be completed in 2025.
#7 Orlando International Airport (MCO), Florida, US
The airport in Orlando served over 40 million passengers in 2021 and thus, takes the 7th position in the ranking. It is also the fifth largest airport in the world by square kilometers.
Orlando was previously a military base under the name McCoy Air Force base and that is where its IATA code comes from. The current airport is only a hub for Silver Airways and serves many domestic flights for JetBue, Southwest, and Silver Airways. However it is a major gateway for international routes as well, with 135 destinations, 850 flights per day, and 44 airlines operating from there.
#8 Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport (CAN), PRC
The Guangzhou airport is not only the 8th busiest in the world, but also the busiest Chinese airport, a title previously held by Shanghai Pudong International Airport. 40 259 401 passengers passed through this Chinese giant in 2021 and it was in fact the world leader in 2020 when COVID hit.
The Chinese airport is located in the Guangdong province in Southern China and the IATA code used to this day derives from the romanized version of Guangzhou - Canton.
China Southern Airlines, FedEx Express, 9 Air, Hainan Airlines and Shenzhen Airlines all use Baiyun Airport as a hub.
#9 Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport (CTU), PRC
Chengdu Shuangliu conceded the 8th place to its fellow Chinese airport with a small difference in the number of passengers: a little over 40,000 less than Guangzhou, 40 117 496.
The second non-American airport in the top 10 of busiest airports in the world is located in the Chinese province of Sichuan and serves its capital, Chengdu, along with Chengdu Tianfu International AIrport (TFU).
Similarly to Orlando Airport, Shuangliu was also founded as a military base in 1938 and served in the Second War between China and Japan and in World War II under the name of Shuangguisi Airport.
Nowadays, the second busiest Chinese airport is a major air hub for Air China, Sichuan Airlines and Chengdu Airlines. Other important carriers like China Eastern and China Southern Airlines, as well as Shenzhen and Tiber Airline use Shuangliu as a base.
#10 Harry Reid International Airport (LAS) , Paradise, Nevada, US
The last airport on the list is the Nevada Harry Reid airport which served 39.8 million passengers during 2021. HRIA also ranks in the top 10 for busiest airports by aircraft movements, at the 7th spot.
Even though it is not located in the city itself, the Harry Reid International Airport is also known as the Las Vegas Airport. It was named after Senator Harry Reid, a Senate representative from Nevada from 1987 until 2017.
Las Vegas Airport is a base for Allegiant Air, Frontier Airlines, Southwest, and Spirit Airlines.
Perhaps it will not come as a surprise that the gates at the Las Vegas Airport are full of slot machines, something that fits Sin City’s reputation.
With this, our ranking is concluded but we are looking forward to ACI’s report for 2022, when international travel was revived and slowly but surely got close to the pre-pandemic figures. Maybe some European and more Asian airports will make it to the top 10? Let’s just wait and see.