The 15 Busiest Airline Routes in the World. None are in the US or Europe.

Data for 2015 is available and I find it fascinating what the 15 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. Japanese domestic routes are always up there. But I would have assumed that Osaka – Tokyo would have been their biggest, and it’s only their fourth biggest. Here’s the list, which was surprising in many ways both for some of the routes included and for the ordering of those routes.

Top 15 Routes by Seat Capacity in 2015:

  1. Seoul Gimpo – Jeju (South Korea domestic)
  2. Sapporo Chitose – Tokyo Haneda (Japan domestic)
  3. Tokyo Haneda – Fukuoka (Japan domestic)
  4. Melbourne – Sydney (Australia domestic)
  5. Taipei Taoyuan – Hong Kong
  6. Mumbai – Delhi (India domestic)
  7. Okinawa – Tokyo Haneda (Japan domestic)
  8. Beijing – Shanghai Hongqiao (China domestic)
  9. Osaka Itami – Tokyo Haneda (Japan domestic)
  10. Rio de Janeiro – Sao Paulo (Brazil domestic)
  11. Surabaya – Jakarta (Indonesia domestic)
  12. Ho Chi Minh City – Hanoi (Vietnam domestic)
  13. Sydney – Brisbane (Australia domestic)
  14. Johannesburg – Capetown (South Africa domestic)
  15. Jakarta – Singapore

Data from OAG

Vietnam Airlines flies Ho Chi Minh City – Hanoi… along with Jetstar Pacific and VietJet

What I found most fascinating is that not a single route is in North America or Europe.

  • 13 of the 15 routes are in Asia Pacific (one is in Africa and one South America).
  • 13 of the 15 are domestic routes. Taipei – Hong Kong is in some sense almost a domestic route.

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 for instance.

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. @Gary, re: “Taipei – Hong Kong is in some sense almost a domestic route.”, I suppose that is really up to who you ask! 😉

  2. I’m not suggesting LAX-SFO has the most flights (that in a frequency ranking would trump Seoul – Jeju) but that you’d see a US route like LAX-SFO on a top 15 list.

  3. @Neil and I don’t list it as a domestic route. I’m making a point about the ‘3 Chinas’… Although I would also point out that taking the ferry between Macau and Hong Kong requires clearing immigration and both are ‘special administrative regions’ of China.

  4. What about ASMs? Capacity x distance? I think you’d see NYC-LON as #1 and maybe NYC-MIA or NYC-LAX on the list also.

  5. I wonder if they group airports for this study? I would think JFK,EWR to LAX,BUR,LGB,SNA might be on there.

  6. MEL-SYD, funny, but not SYD-MEl. Seems everyone is getting out of MEL and heading for the land of opportunity!! Mr Andrews, the accidental Socialist Premier, has a lot to answer for

  7. @Tom this list is specific airports (note Seoul “Gimpo” .. Tokyo “Haneda”)… I guess I could construct numbers if we included ORD/MDW-LGA/JFK/EWR and maybe the “New York – Chicago” route would break in.

  8. I think the list would look a lot different if you included all modes of transport between city pairs. I’m sure New York-DC and London- Paris would make the list if you included rail bus and car. Tokyo-Osaka would almost certainly be to if Shinkansen trips were included.

  9. @Gary – Tokyo-Osaka is likely further down on the list as taking the shinkansen between the two cities is faster, more comfortable, more convenient, and nearly always exactly on time.

  10. The Osaka-Tokyo route has strong competition with the bullet train, and so I am surprised that it is even in the ranking.

  11. 3 Chinas? What on earth are you talking about? No politics please!

    Hong Kong SAR recognizes itself as being part of the People’s Republic of China (aka mainland China) and its sovereign territory. The Republic of China (aka Taiwan) does not. Just because the PRC claims Taiwan as its own does not make Hong Kong to Taiwan ‘almost’ (as you put it) domestic.

    Mainland Chinese need a visa to go to Taiwan just like you as an America need a visa to go to China.

  12. The biggest thing swinging these numbers if airframe size.

    US operators have a shit ton of RJ s in their fleets. Comparatively speaking, Asian carriers have like none.

    Many Asian carriers have a widebody-heavy fleet that they will run on comparatively short routes. Take TPE-HKG for instance, CX pretty much runs hourly service with 777s.

    Gimpo-jeju is interesting, because a majority of those flights are narrow bodies, although I saw at least one 747 in the schedule.

  13. @Gary, I do not know if the statistic presented is based on “flown” or capacity.
    I would reckon that the 3MEA-would pick up on this an include DXB-DOH?

  14. @Bob Trial – Taiwan/Hong Kong/China is just one of the most interesting things in the world to study, not politics but economics and comparative political institutions. They share mostly the same history. The only real difference is their institutions and provide a fascinating natural experiment in divergent outcomes that stem from institutions since culture is more or less held constant.

  15. Gary….is the data beyond the top 15 available on the web? Anything on actual passenger volumes or ASM? Thanks!

  16. Taiwan and China shares same history. But Hong Kong is not, it was established by British 150 years ago as colony. Before that, Hong Kong was just a fish village and once destroyed by “Great Clearance” during Qing dynasty.

  17. A lot of the other stats that people have asked about here are available on Wiki and many of the guesses in the comments here are correct. LHR-JFK is indeed #1 in seat-miles, for example (and even LAX-JFK is #6.) The entire top 5 list has an endpoint at LHR and the entire top 10 has at least one endpoint at LHR or in the U.S., except #8, which is SYD-DXB.

    By aircraft movements, the rankings (including all airports in each city) are:
    1 Rio – Sao Paulo (284/day)
    2 Jeju – Seoul (209/day)
    3 Sydney – Melbourne (192/day)
    4 Chicago – New York (184/day)

    LA – SF comes in at #8 with 124/day
    LA – NYC comes it at #15 with 98/day

    One kind of surprising one is that Honolulu – Kahalui and Fort Lauderdale – NYC both tie with Brisbane – Melbourne for #19 at 72 movements/day. I knew HNL-OGG had a lot of movements, but I didn’t realize it was *that* many (it ties for 4th place in the U.S.)

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