What Are the World’s Busiest Airports? #7, 10, 16, and 23 Will Shock You!

Point Me to the Plane writes that Dubai has overtaken London Heathrow as the world’s busiest airport.. for international passengers.

Full calendar year 2014 data isn’t in yet, but looking at 2013 data Dubai doesn’t actually come close to Heathrow in total passengers. Heathrow was the world’s third-busiest airport with 72 million passengers and Dubai number 7 at 66 million. It’s only by excluding UK domestic passengers from the totals that Emirates is able to squeak ahead.

So while Dubai may claim the title for a subset of passengers, many will be surprised that it was only the seventh-busiest airport overall in 2013. And much of that is based on connecting traffic, Dubai is a gateway to India and the surrounding region as well as North Africa. While Dubai is indeed a financial center in its own right, and Heathrow has long been a place passengers connect (and dread doing so), Dubai has built itself up with long haul flying shuttle passengers through their modern facilities.

Despite the massive spending spree of Emirates’ cross-country rival a mere hours’ drive away, Abu Dhabi appears nowhere on the list of world’s busiest.

Here are the top 25 airports by number of passengers in 2013:

It surprised me to see Jakarta ahead of Hong Kong, Singapore, and Bangkok — although again, domestic Indonesian travel is a driver.

And number 16 Guangzhou beats Shanghai although two airports splitting traffic in Shanghai is a significant contributor to this. Nonetheless, it’s a testament to Chinese growth that while recognized at a high level isn’t broadly understood in the West. Air travel patterns really underscore it.

Number 23 Charlotte had more passengers than Miami, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Houston. With the American Airlines-US Airways merger, going forward I think we’ll expect to see some changes at Charlotte. It will remain an important domestic connecting hub, especially for reaching cities in the Southeast and for North-South connecting trafic along the East Coast. But it may see less Caribbean flying given American’s strength at Miami, and less transatlantic flying given American’s strength at both New York JFK and Philadelphia.

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. Re: ramping down Charlotte to the Caribbean, etc. – I’m not so sure. AA’s MIA operation is overloaded, overcrowded, constantly delayed and often affected by weather. CLT runs like a well-oiled machine. If AA was smart, I’d think they’d use CLT as a bit of a relief valve on MIA volume. For people coming in from far away (deep in Latin America, etc.) yes it makes sense to have MIA as the entry point. But for US-based pax going to/from the Caribbean and closer points in Latin America, CLT makes just as much sense.

  2. Please post again when you have the 2014 numbers…it will be interesting to compare this 2013 list to the 2014 list as I suspect there will be some differences.

  3. Per CW’s comments,

    I generally agree. MIA may be bursting at the seams, and CLT may be able to absorb leisure market travelers who do not particularly care where they transfer.

    BUT, it strikes me that the merger may create an opportunity for AA to eliminate some service (e.g., the CLT-BZE 1x/week) upgauging, as necessary.

    FWIW, 1/14 – 9/14 traffic may be found at:


    Looks like DXB may overtake ORD soon, is growing at a similar rate to LAX and growing sufficiently faster than LHR that it could overtake in a couple of years.

  4. I find Denver yo be a surprise. I mean yes there is a lot of connecting traffic but enough for 15? They have 3 TATL flights and one to Tokyo

  5. #7, Dubai is home to Emirates with a huge amount of A380s. I don’t find it shocking that they move tons of passengers through.

    CAN and CGK are in some very, very dense cities that have growing middle classes. I’m not surprised by those either.

    Charlotte and Vegas shock me more.

  6. Several years ago I recall reading that Van Nuys airport was the busiest in the world measured by takeoffs and landings

  7. Las Vegas doesn’t suprise me, but Denver? Denver is United’s queen of ERJ and CRJ flights. Doesn’t make any sense, let’s see 2014 numbers?

  8. #7, 10, 16, and 23 will shock me? Really? Pleeeeaaaaase don’t adopt that incredibly tired and annoying click-bait strategy that turns me off of other websites.

  9. Gary, I like your blog, I really do, but lately, your headliner screams BuzzFeed with all the “You can’t/won’t believe, etc”

  10. great post and insights. however… the title… THAT title… are we getting a little carried away with the newfound love for click-bait-sounding titles? 😉

  11. I just wanted to chime in and say that I too am a loyal reader annoyed with the super Upworthy-parody headlines.

    Your writing isn’t trash.

    You shouldn’t title it as such.

  12. As a relatively new resident of Atlanta, I can tell you that this is the only list where Hartsfield comes out at #1…

  13. Guangzhou and Jakarta do not shock me in the least, seeing that I have lived in China for a decade (Guangzhou for 3 years) and travelled to all of ASEAN countries.

    Dubai I have no clue about (only Doha in the region — the sad little old airport, before mid-2014), and I didn’t even know Charlotte had an airport. I would have thought it was like one of those small US states capitals that people do not even know the names of.

  14. BTW, 94 million in a year equals roughly 27 in an hour every hour, to wit: one every 2 minutes and a few seconds round the clock.

    And we all know departures between 2 and 4 am at no airport are not every 2 minutes, so it means every minute during busier times.

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