Fly frequently enough, and it'll only be a matter of time before you pass through the highest-traffic airports in the world. Think Los Angeles in rush hour gridlock... then add planes. Avoid the following airports if you possibly can!
1. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
According to the Airport Council International, Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta, GA was the busiest airport in the world in 2017. Exactly how many souls passed through? 103,902,992. A shockingly-high number to be sure. What's even more surprising is that this number is down from the previous year. Hartsfield-Jackson beat the runner-up by a cool eight million. Not bad for a year's work.
Atlanta has actually had the world's busiest airport since 1998. Hartsfield-Jackson is positioned as a transport hub for domestic flights carrying passengers across the country. Delta, Frontier, Southwest, and Spirit are the airport's heaviest users. They're all low-cost carriers, and it may only be a matter of time before fate delivers you to Hartsfield-Jackson for a layover. Due to its convenient location, it may be the only way to keep your ticket cost down.
2. Beijing Capital International Airport
What Hartsfield-Jackson is for domestic flights, Beijing is for the rest of the world. Beijing has rapidly climbed the rankings over the last decade. In the year 2017, they set a new personal record: 95,786,442 passengers coming and going. Beijing Capital has come a long way since their first international flight in 1958 when Pakistan International Airways flew in from Islamabad.
Beijing is by far the busiest airport in Asia in terms of passenger traffic. In 2012, Beijing Capital became the 13th busiest airport in cargo traffic as well. They added two new terminals between 2005 and 2008 in preparation for the 2008 Olympic Games.
By the way, if you ever find yourself at Beijing Capital and you're hungry, make your way over to terminal three. You'll find over 70 different restaurants serving everything from steak to smoothie bowls!
3. Dubai International Airport
Dubai is rich in oil money and now spiked with skyscrapers. It also floods with air traffic. Dubai is another international transport hub at the most extreme. It wasn't even close to catching Beijing in last year's numbers, but it sure gave its all. 88,242,099 passengers touched down in Dubai in 2017. That's a 5.5% increase from the year before, not a minor feat when considering the immense volume we're talking about. Dubai International's terminal three is the largest air terminal in the world, and the second-largest building in the world by volume. (Only Boeing's construction hangar is bigger.)
While hubs like Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta spread their traffic across several airlines, Dubai has a slightly different pattern of traffic flow. 51% of the airport's passenger traffic and 42% of all aircraft movement comes from Emirate Airlines. The Emirate's hub is the largest in the Middle East. Dubai International's growth has been precocious. In 2014, only 70 million passengers touched down. 12 years earlier, in 2002, traffic was still below 16 million per annum. With growth this rampant, Dubai may someday clinch the number two spot. For now, third will have to do.
4. Los Angeles International Airport
Los Angeles isn't just known for its traffic on the ground; it has a reputation for being busy in the air as well. In 2017, 84.5 million passengers flew into Los Angeles International. The airport is the main jump-off point for flights making the journey across the Pacific. Vancouver and Seattle send their fair share of planes in that direction as well, but not nearly as many as Los Angeles.
No other airport ranks in the top five for both most cargo and most passenger traffic. In true hub fashion, Los Angeles International serves as a focus for Alaska Airlines, Air New Zealand, Allegiant Air, Southwest Airlines, Quantas, Volaris, and Spirit Airlines.
5. O'Hare International Airport, Chicago, Illinois
In 2017, O'Hare International Airport in Chicago served 79,828,193 passengers. You could say that Chicago is the Atlanta of the north regarding linking connecting flights. O'Hare has held the number two spot for most takeoffs and landings for over a decade. The front-runner for most takeoffs and landings? Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta, of course. O'Hare offers service to over 60 international destinations and approximately 150 domestic.
The airport provides nonstop service to Africa and New Zealand beginning in 2018. O'Hare is considered the fourth largest international mega-hub, meaning that they link up a high volume of international and domestic flights. You'd think that with such high volume O'Hare would continuously be on the verge of infrastructure overload. The opposite is the case. O'Hare operates with such efficiency that the Eno Center for Transportation awarded them a Fly Score of 94 out of 100. The organization evaluates airports for prices, competition, destinations, and frequency before calculating the final grade.
Out of the top 50 airports for highest passenger traffic, only five of them saw a downtick in traffic volume between 2016 and 2017. Across the globe, more people are flying. As the trend continues, it'll become even more important to dot all your "I's" and cross all your "T's" before taking to the air. Not all airports are as efficient as O'Hare, and headaches are bound to happen.