What’s the Busiest Airline Route in the World?

Thrillist has a piece today declaring the airline route that’s “the most popular/busiest in the world” Hong Kong – Taipei.

At 4.9 million passengers last year.

Wait just one second.. That didn’t sit right. That’s only about half the passengers as the route with the greatest passenger volume. And it took me a couple of minutes to figure out what’s going on here.

The data being reported was for the busiest international routes by passenger volume. All of the many routes with more passengers are domestic ones.

Here are the busiest international routes by passenger volume last year:

And here are the busiest routes with most passengers, without excluding domestic flights.

    (Passenger count reported in thousands.)

The latter data is showing 2012 passengers, and the chart with international routes only is passenger totals for 2013, but order of magnitude this should be correct.

Six of the eight busiest routes in the world are Asian domestic routes. A seventh – also dubbed busiest international one in the world – only counts on international depending on whom you ask (flying between a Chinese ‘special administrative region’ and the Republic of China).

Interestingly, this list doesn’t include any US domestic routes. Department of Transportation data suggests that 3 US domestic routes might squeak into the top 10.

San Francisco – Los Angeles transports the most people, and that’s followed by another Los Angeles route — to New York — and another New York route — to Miami.

Interestingly, though not on the list above, New York – Chicago actually has more daily flights between the two metropolitan areas than any other domestic route.. albeit with smaller aircraft and not always full.

Unquestionably, the most important US market is New York followed by Los Angeles. San Francisco, Chicago, and Miami are key as well though a notch below.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. Looking at the Amadeus source link for the top 10 routes the numbers are for O&D traffic only. The US routes may include passengers routing over hubs at either end of the corridors. It’s also not clear if the Amadeus list is for Airport pairs or for multiple airports serving a metro area, as the US DOT list appears to be.

  2. I want to say that the list of worldwide busiest routes are specifically airport pairs instead of city/metro area pairs, whereas the US list isn’t.

  3. I thought Sapporo to Tokyo would be up there. I flew that route a lot when I lived in Hokkaido. It’s a little too far to travel by train (even by Japan standards) and there are a ton of leisure and business travelers…not to mention Sapporo is really the gateway to all of Hokkaido, the agricultural center of Japan (although I must call out my local airport Obihiro)

  4. Gary, Taiwan and Hong Kong (China) are completely separate countries. It’s almost like saying Canada and US could be considered same country. I understand it’s a common mistake, just wanna point it out

  5. @Simon: in the case of London, that’s not true. Traffic between Amsterdam and Heathrow is about 1.4 million, while it listed as double. So I guess that’s also metro area pair and therefore the rest as well.

  6. @JayLTX All I was suggesting is that while things have thawed recently, Taiwan has long been considered *by China* not to be separate. Not arguing that they are not separate 😉

  7. Taiwanese also consider the country part of China, at least there’s never been a formal declaration of independence. Definitely nothing like Canada and the US, which have never been one country

  8. @George I assume you are teasing. Otherwise what was the American War of Independence for? Before it was all British North America.

  9. Wow, I did this route a week ago! Don’t forget … it’s also a route you can fly the “Kitty Jet” if you want 🙂

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