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The pandemic totally altered air traffic patterns the world over—not only were fewer people flying between 2020 and 2022, but the places they were flying to and from changed considerably as travelers faced COVID protocols at the borders and reduced international flight capacity.
Prior to the pandemic, in 2019, the list of the world’s busiest airports was a true mix of U.S. and international airports with more global hubs on it than U.S. ones. Last year, when the Airports Council International (ACI) released its latest rankings of the airports with the highest passenger traffic (based on 2021 traffic numbers), 8 of the top 10 busiest airports in the world were in the United States, and the remaining 2 were in China.
This week, ACI released its latest ranking of the 10 busiest airports in the world, based on 2022 traffic numbers, and while U.S. airports still make up 5 of the top 10, airports such as Dubai International Airport, London Heathrow, and Paris–Charles de Gaulle, which had all disappeared from the top 10 last year, are back in the mix.
What is the No. 1 busiest airport in the world?
This year, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport tops the list as the world’s busiest airport. In 2022, 93.7 million passengers flew through Atlanta, according to ACI. That was a nearly 24 percent increase over the 75.7 million passengers who traveled through Atlanta in 2021. Even though it tops the list in 2022, Atlanta’s 2022 passenger numbers are still 15 percent below 2019 traffic, indicating that air travel continues to be in recovery mode.
What are the 10 busiest airports in the world?
1. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (93.7 million)
With 93.7 million passengers passing through its terminals last year, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) remains a major connecting hub for air travel to and within the United States—especially for those traveling with Delta Air Lines and its partners. But it has a lot more going for it than sheer numbers of passengers.
When it comes to the airport lounges, this being Delta’s HQ, there’s at least one Delta Sky Club in all seven of the concourses (A, B, C, D, E, F, and T). There’s also an American Airlines Admirals Club, United Club, and the Club at ATL, available to Priority Pass holders and to those who purchase a day pass. Atlanta also has an ambitious art program that includes both permanent and rotating exhibits.
Atlanta’s massive airport has been seriously stepping up its culinary game in recent years. Its more than 100 food and beverage establishments include acclaimed upscale American restaurant One Flew South, located in Concourse E, as well as a Shake Shack in Concourse A. If you’re in Concourse C, head to the the Varsity for chili dogs or the Original El Taco for an innovative Mexican menu (fried chicken tacos, anyone?). You can also fuel up on Southern comfort food at Chicken + Beer in Concourse D.
2. Dallas–Fort Worth International Airport (73.4 million)
Dallas–Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) could actually be considered a small city (it even has its own zip code), spanning more than 26 square miles with five terminals and 168 gates. The airport recently received a $35 million federal grant to construct a zero-carbon electrical plant in order to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2030.
If you find yourself with extra time in this sprawling travel complex, the good news is there are some decent eateries. If you’re in Terminal A and looking for a nice sit-down meal, head to Ling & Louie’s for elevated Asian cuisine. If you want one last taste of barbecue before you take off, hit up the Salt Lick BBQ or fill up with a serious burger at Twisted Root. In Terminal B, you can sip a glass of wine in a sophisticated space at Decanted and fill up on smoked meats and sides at Cousins BBQ. There’s an always reliable Shake Shack in Terminal C, the Fort Worth coffeehouse Brewed in Terminal D, and Blue Mesa Taco & Tequila Bar in Terminal E for Mexican-inspired food and drinks.
Lounges include American Airlines Flagship First lounge and Admirals Clubs, Delta Sky Club, United Club, Capital One Lounge, Centurion Lounge, and the Club at DFW for Priority Pass holders.
Some fun additional amenities are Spa Here, for massages, haircuts, and nail treatments in Terminal C; Minute Suites for napping in Terminal A; and Gameway, a video game lounge, in Terminal B. There’s also a children’s play area (courtesy of McDonald’s) in Terminal D near gate D8.
3. Denver International Airport (69.3 million)
In fall 2022, Denver International Airport (DEN) completed a capacity expansion project that added 39 new gates to the mountain hub, bringing the total number of gates across the airport’s three terminals to 90 (a 30 percent increase over its previous capacity). The airport also now has three outdoor decks where travelers can soak up some fresh air and Colorado views, as well as family seating areas, nursing rooms, new bathroom facilities, charging stations, workstations, and rest areas.
Denver is a big transfer hub so even if you aren’t planning to fly to or from Denver anytime soon, you could very well be flying through. If you want to grab some decent grub during your layover, there are solid options in each terminal. In Concourse A, Breckenridge Brewery pours a lot of local brews, and Brothers BBQ will fill you up with overflowing barbecue sandwiches. If you’re looking for a quick bite, hit up the Denver Central Market near gate A48 with a Culture Meat & Cheese outpost, SK Provisions that serves breakfast, Sushi Rama, and Vero Italian. In Concourse B, where United flights take off, Snooze serves up serious breakfast dishes, and for a nice sit-down meal for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, snag a table at Elway’s. There’s also a CRÚ Food and Wine Bar and a Shake Shack. If you’re flying out of Concourse C, try to make some time for a meal or drink at the super colorful Root Down, which serves locally sourced meals alongside cocktails, wine, and craft brews. You can also opt for Tamales La Casita for filling Mexican fare followed by Little Man Ice Cream for a sweet treat before you fly.
Another feature of the Denver airport is the outdoor plaza that hosts an ice skating rink and live music performances during the holidays from mid-November through early January. Travelers can borrow a free pair of skates inside the Westin hotel at the plaza.
The Denver hub is also known for its extensive art collection. There’s an American Airlines Admirals Club, American Express Centurion Lounge, Delta Sky Club, and a United Club and new United Club Fly concept.
4. Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (68.3 million)
This busy midwestern airport with 193 gates and four terminals (Terminals 1, 2, 3, and 5—there is no Terminal 4) has been quietly upping its game. For one, the food options are a lot better than they used to be at O’Hare International Airport (ORD). That’s mostly thanks to the celebrity chef Rick Bayless–backed Tortas Frontera. There are three locations at O’Hare (in Terminals 1, 3, and 5) where you can get the perfectly toasted tortas. For lighter fare, hit up Wicker Park Seafood and Sushi Bar (in Terminals 1 and 2).
If you’re looking to work up a sweat between flights, the Hilton Athletic Club inside the Hilton Chicago O’Hare Airport Hotel sells day passes, which include access to a steam room, sauna, lap pool, and locker rooms. You can also head to the yoga room and urban garden in Terminal 3 or try the Terminal Getaway Spa in Terminal 1 for some preflight zen. A family lounge in Terminal 2 near gate F1 includes a play area for kids, and there are nursing rooms in all four terminals.
When it comes to airport lounges, O’Hare is home to an American Airlines Flagship Lounge and an Admirals Club, a Delta Sky Club, and a United Club and a Polaris Lounge.
5. Dubai International Airport (66 million)
This massive global hub in the United Arab Emirates ranks fifth for total passenger traffic in 2022, but it tops the list for highest international passenger volume in 2022. Dubai International Airport (DBX) experienced a massive recovery in 2022, jumping to the fifth spot up from 27th in 2021, with its passenger traffic having increased 127 percent.
Dubai International Airport is comprised of three terminals. Terminal 3, home to Concourse A, B, and C, is the dedicated terminal for UAE flag carrier Emirates. Terminal 2 is for charter and special-use flights, and Terminal 1 is home to the massive Concourse D, which serves all other global airlines. In 2022, the majority of DBX passengers hailed from India, Saudi Arabia, the U.K., Pakistan, and the U.S., with the top destinations from Dubai being London, Riyadh, and Mumbai.
In Terminal 1, travelers will find nine lounges, including a Sky Team, British Airways, and Lufthansa lounge. There is no shortage of dining and shopping options throughout the terminal, with restaurants and fast-casual outposts such as the Kitchen by Wolfgang Puck, Pret A Manger, Starbucks, Costa Coffee, and Krispy Kreme (for those early-morning layovers). For passengers flying Emirates, Terminal 3 is home to several Emirates lounges as well as the eternally popular burger joint Shake Shack and a Hard Rock Café if you fancy some music-themed kitsch. As for shopping, Dubai Duty Free sells an average of 2.9 million bottles of perfume, 4.5 million pounds of chocolate, and nearly 6,000 pounds of gold every year, to get a sense of just how much retail travel therapy happens at this hub.
6. Los Angeles International Airport (65.9 million)
LAX, as it’s commonly called (as that’s the airport code), is in the midst of a major transformation. The expansive Southern California airport recently broke ground on several major construction projects that promise to alleviate a lot of the traffic issues the airport faces. They include an electric rail system that will provide public transportation access to and from the airport and is slated for completion in 2023. And LAX has been transforming in other ways as well.
What was once a dearth of options throughout the airport has evolved into a respectable roster of dining experiences. Standouts include fast-casual seafood joint Slapfish and elevated dining at SeaLegs Wine Bar (both in Terminal 2). You can get inventive burgers at Umami Burger and creative Mexican cuisine at Border Grill in the Tom Bradley International Terminal. Or head to Terminal 5 for some Southern California–inspired comfort food and refreshing drinks at Lemonade. Wahoo’s Fish Taco in Terminal 6 is a well-loved SoCal fish taco stand.
Once you’ve fueled up, be sure to check out some of the art installations throughout the airport. Every major U.S. carrier has one or more lounges at LAX, as do several international carriers, credit card companies, and airline alliance networks.
7. Istanbul Airport (64.3 million)
Istanbul Airport (IST) is the only hub on the latest list that actually managed to significantly surpass its 2019 passenger numbers—by a whopping 23 percent. All the other airports in the top 10, with the exception of Denver (which was essentially flat compared to 2019) still remained below 2019 numbers.
That may be in part due to the fact that Istanbul Airport is a newer facility (the first phase of which opened in October 2018) that when fully completed will be able to accommodate up to 200 million travelers per year—more than triple that of its predecessor Atatürk International Airport, which shuttered in 2019. Located 22 miles north of the city center, Istanbul Airport is on track to becoming a 29.5 square-mile facility (larger than the island of Manhattan) that will ultimately feature six runways. The new airport’s terminal was built to reflect the style of Istanbul’s domed mosques and baths, while the air traffic control tower’s shape is inspired by a tulip, one of the traditional symbols of Istanbul.
If you find yourself with time to spare here, head to the lounge of flag carrier Turkish Airlines (if that option is available to you—Star Alliance members are welcome, too) for a true feast. The lounge showcases Turkish cuisine and also features relaxation areas, rest rooms, shower facilities, and a children’s area, making it a true oasis whether you’re traveling for business or as a family. If you’re looking for an overnight stay or more intense rest, there is a 451-room Yotel that passengers can access both before and after security. Elsewhere in the terminal are ample eateries that include Shake Shack for burgers, Godiva for sweets, Mövenpick for ice cream, elevated Italian food at Pizzeria Enzo, and plenty of Turkish outposts for food, coffee, and treats.
8. London’s Heathrow Airport (61.6 million)
The winner for biggest comeback in 2022 goes to London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR), which saw its passenger numbers increase 218 percent over 2021 numbers, bringing it into the eighth spot in 2022 up from 54th in 2021.
The main international hub for the capital of the United Kingdom is a collection four bustling terminals—2, 3, 4, and 5 (Terminal 1 closed in 2015)—with plans to eventually build a third runway and a new terminal building. Until then, there are plenty of services and amenities at the sprawling facility.
Heathrow has an online restaurant directory with links to menus for nearly every airport venue and notes on places that can accommodate special dietary needs (like kosher, vegan, or gluten-free) and those that are kid-friendly. There is also a mobile ordering app that allows passengers in a hurry to preorder food and drink for pickup at participating airport restaurants, and some on-site eateries feature special menu items that can be served within 15 minutes of ordering. Several establishments, like Gordon Ramsay Plane Food and EL&N, will even put together picnic-style meals designed for travelers to be able to bring onto their flights. There are dozens of lounges at Heathrow, including numerous British Airways outposts, three airport hotels, a Be Relax spa (in Terminal 5), play areas in all four terminals, and tons of shops to check out.
9. Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi, India (59.5 million)
The main international airport serving India’s capital consists of Terminal 1, Terminal 2, and Terminal 3, with Terminal 3 being the largest single terminal in India and the fifth largest in the world. Indira Gandhi International Airport (DEL) is India’s main international hub and the only airport in India with three operational runways.
The hub is also is the first carbon-neutral airport in the Asia Pacific Region, recognized by ACI’s Airport Carbon Accreditation Program, complete with a large on-site solar power plant and energy efficiency program.
Many lounges and additional services and fast-casual eateries are available in the large Terminal 3, which also features a children’s play area, a gaming room called Amoeba, and a flight simulator, the Cockpit.
10. Paris–Charles de Gaulle Airport (57.5 million)
Located about 20 miles northeast of Paris, Paris–Charles de Gaulle Airport is the main international hub for Paris and is also the main European hub for the SkyTeam network. So, even if travelers aren’t flying to Paris or France, this is a major connecting airport for flights to and through Europe.
Paris–Charles de Gaulle (or CDG, which is the airport code) has a trio of terminals: Terminal 1, Terminal 2, and Terminal 3. Terminal 2 is divided into several subterminal buildings, 2A through 2G, and is home to Air France, as well as SkyTeam and Oneworld airlines, and other international carriers. Terminals 2B to 2D are currently in the midst of a renovation project that aims to modernize and expand the spaces.
Getting to CDG from Paris or vice versa is not the most straightforward. The RER commuter train connects CDG to the Paris metro system and can take anywhere from 25 to 40 minutes. There’s also the option to take a bus or hail a cab or rideshare service. Thankfully, a CDG Express train is in the works that will provide a 20-minute ride to CDG from Paris with a launch date of early 2027.
Once at the airport, there are plenty of ways to indulge—especially in French fare. You can get grab-and-go options at popular bakery and sandwich outposts like Paul and Brioche Dorée or sit down to an elegant French meal at I Love Paris by Guy Martin, located in Terminal 2E, where you can eat cuisine designed by the acclaimed chef at a restaurant that has been hailed as one of the best airport culinary destinations in the world. If you need a last-minute souvenir, head to Terminal 2F for a box of macarons at Ladurée.
How do the 2022 world’s busiest airport rankings compare to the previous year?
As mentioned above, in 2021, the top 10 busiest airports in the world were dominated by U.S. players—8 of the top 10 were stateside, and the remaining 2 were in China.
“While U.S. airport hubs were able to recover quicker due to their strong domestic market, we are now witnessing global hubs joining upper ranks—including Dubai, Istanbul, and London Heathrow airport,” states ACI world director general Luis Felipe de Oliveira about the transition from 2021’s rankings to the top 10 list for 2022.
Going forward, “The reopening of China, the second largest aviation market after the U.S., is now expected to bring an overall gain, both domestically and for international travel,” de Oliveira adds.
In 2021, these were the top 10 busiest airports in the world based on passenger traffic:
- Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (75.7 million)
- Dallas–Fort Worth International Airport (62.5 million)
- Denver International Airport (58.8 million)
- Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (54 million)
- Los Angeles International Airport (48 million)
- Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina (43.3 million)
- Orlando International Airport in Florida (40.35 million passengers)
- Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport (40.26 million)
- Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport (40.1 million)
- Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas (39.75 million)
This story was originally published in August 2019 and was updated on April 5, 2023, with current information.
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