Chicago May Be About to Overtake Atlanta at the World’s Busiest Airport

Atlanta airport is the world’s busiest. When you look at the number of flights many of the other busiest airports drop down in the rankings, major international airports often have large widebodies dominating but fewer flights. Atlanta certainly sees its share of widebodies but is also a major domestic hub with narrowbodies and regional jets.

It turns out that Chicago O’Hare isn’t that far behind Atlanta when ranked by number of flights. Here’s data from Airline Weekly sourced to Airports Council International.

Chicago had about 18,000 fewer flights in 2017 than Atlanta. That’s 50 flights per day. But Chicago O’Hare has plans to grow its infrastructure faster than Atlanta does, and that could allow the United and American hub to overtake Atlanta.

The Chicago plan grows the airport from 185 gates to 220 in 2026.

Atlanta has 193 gates and more modest plans to grow. They’ve rejected building a new international concourse. They’re adding 5 gates to the end of Concourse T. And there are further possibilities:

  • Extend Concourse T on the south end to add 6-8 gates
  • Extend concourses B, C and D adding two gates to each

In all likelihood this is either-or. But even if Atlanta added 8 gates to the south end of T and 6 gates across the other three concourses under consideration, in addition to the 5 they’re already adding to the north end of T that’s 19 gates for 212 total, shy of the gate capacity O’Hare is projecting.

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. And I bet even if ORD becomes the airport with the most traffic, it STILL won’t have a Centurion Lounge.

    Come on, Amex.

  2. I thought airports were measured by passengers, not flights. ATL always seems to trumpet pax movement when it claims “busiest”.

  3. I think you meant “220” when you wrote “The Chicago plan grows the airport from 185 gates to 2020 in 2026.”

  4. WOW, Chicago O’hare will grow from 185 gates to 2,020 gates? Yeah that would definitely make them the number 1 airport in the world lol.

  5. ATL T Concourse is in need of a refresh, though with Delta footing a big chunk of the bill and T hosting the UA/AA gates, I doubt this is high priority.

    ORD gets a bad rap, but compared to other “big city” US airports it’s really not that bad. I think the lack of lounges (Centurion, 3rd party PP) has more to do with the fact that there’s no more room in Terminals 1-4.

  6. @toomanybooks

    Amex could build multiple centurion lounges at ORD, they would still be insufferably overcrowded.

  7. Id rather connect in ATL any day though. Having to go back through security for connecting to an intl flight at ORD is BS!!!! (missed a Turkish airlines flight by about 30 seconds because of this….)

  8. I really don’t care who’s on top, I’ll avoid any in the top 10 whenever possible. They’re all miserable to fly through.

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