The 10 Busiest Airline Routes in the World. None are in the US or Europe.

Data for 2016 is now available from IATA and I find it fascinating what the 10 airline routes with the greatest capacity are for the year.

Some of these I knew, like the South Korean domestic route between Seoul’s closer-in Gimpo airport (not Incheon) and Jeju. And some of these I’ve flown. Japanese domestic routes are always up towards the top of the list, but pay attention and see that despite three in the top 10 Osaka – Tokyo isn’t there at all (last year it clocked in at number nine).

Here’s the list, which was surprising in many ways both for some of the routes included and for the ordering of those routes.

The top six are in exactly the same order as 2015, and so is number eight. Ho Chi Minh City – Hanoi bumped up from 12th in 2015 to 7th in 2016. Of course Vietnam domestic growth is largely driven by the bikini airline that created Asia’s first self-made female billionaire in competition with Vietnam Airlines.

Nine of these top 10 are domestic routes. And if you toe the line on a One China Policy then the only route requiring going through passport control — Taipei to Hong Kong — is a domestic flight as well. (As a Special Administrative Region of China, there would be passport control in any case just as there is for Macau.)

What I found most fascinating is that not a single route is in North America or Europe. Every single route in the top 10 is in Asia Pacific.

There’s no New York – DC (though Amtrak has outcompeted what was once a vigorous air shuttle market) or New York – Los Angeles. If we were looking at frequency (number of flights) I suspect this list would look different. You’d probably see Los Angeles – San Francisco on that list, or Barcelona – Madrid for instance.

If you go beyond the top 10 you’re going to start to see other regions — like Rio de Janeiro – Sao Paulo which was number 10 last year, but falls a bit with the sagging economy, and Johannesburg – Capetown.

The world’s busiest long haul route is New York JFK – London, but with about 2 million seats a year only has half what it takes to make this list.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. They’re airport pairs, not city pairs or metro pairs. Say SF Bay Area to LA Basin – it has 3 airports north and 5 airports south, so the traffic is spread across dozens of airport pairs, and none of them show up on the ranking.

  2. New York – DC / New York – Boston also ends up divided up because you have flights going to JFK, LGA, and EWR and in DC both IAD and DCA.

  3. Of course. And on some of these routes, they use widebody planes. On HKG TPE, it’s not uncommon to be in a 77W.

    That’s why it’s such a shock when a person visits The States and they see only an A321 or a B757 on LAX to JFK.

  4. Trains also bringing down Japan’s major city pairs. But in Japan they have real modern bullet trains and not the junk we’re stuck with because red(neck) states deliberately sabotage all progress, even though they get millions of less votes for Congress and President.

    Other countries teach our example in their schools now after Bush, as a warning on what primitives with their Fake News can do to modernity There are no stupider people on the planet. Enter Pres. Putin.

  5. Load is high otherwise the seats wouldn’t fly. I fly MEL-SYD every other week and it’s very rare that I have a seat empty next to me. The flights are every 15 mins on QF (same on VA plus LCCs as well). If loads are light then they cancel the x:15 or x:45 planes and roll those passengers onto the other services so planes are rarely empty. Mixture of B738s and A332/A333.

    As for the metro argument – the top 3 have alternative metro airports at either or both ends of those routes. MEL does as well if you want to count the handful of flights AVV-SYD every day.

  6. @Greg. Ignorant and moronic comment. See bullet train fiasco LV to LA your boy Reid couldn’t get done. Also see intrastate CA disaster, acela disaster…….

  7. @BB Sorry I don’t “see” Fake News. Funny how reich wing memes never show up in any mainstream media. They live in your head.

  8. I agree with other posters on trains. If Eurostar is counted, then London – Paris has around 4 million seats a year. And takes the same time to travel as a plane.

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