The Largest Airports in the World

Airports · 9 min read · Mar 18, 2022
largest airport in the world

Airports are complex ecosystems and the largest international airports in the world make processing passenger traffic a challenging task with many aspects to be considered.

The largest airport does not necessarily have to be the busiest airport, but it has become a trend to see the biggest and busiest airports in the world being built in the more desired destinations. The busiest they get at any destination, the bigger the airport they build.

While it is true that the largest airports in the world can take more flights and passengers in transit, operators can sometimes find difficulties having passengers board their planes on time due to the long distances between terminals and gates. And this becomes especially true when connecting flights of different airlines.

However, most large airports have impeccable airport terminal management techniques nailed down, so you are sure to get to your flight in time.

largest airport in the world banner

Optimized architecture

With this in mind, it is more common to see architects take this into account and optimize the airports’ designs to limit the distances passengers need to cover while moving to their gates.

A good example of this trend is the Beijing Daxing International Airport, the largest single building in the world, and expected to dethrone Beijing Capital International Airport as the world’s busiest airport by 2040.

For the design of Beijing Daxing International Airport, architect Zaha Hadid used a shape resembling a starfish that allows the passengers to reach the corresponding gate in about 8 minutes.

If you want to learn more about the largest and busiest airports in the world, we invite you to keep reading as we tell you all about them.

A departures board in one of the busiest airports in the world.

Largest airports in the world

First of all, we want you to understand that speaking about the largest airports in the world makes reference to the airports with the largest surface area covered, and King Fahd International Airport led the list with an area of 780 square kilometers or the size of New York City approximately until Beijing Daxing International Airport was built.

With this in mind, let’s take a closer look at the largest airports in the world.

Beijing Daxing International Airport

Also known as “Starfish” because of the design described above, the Beijing Daxing International Airport is the biggest airport in the world.

This international airport covers a total land area of 18 square miles (almost 47 square kilometers), with a terminal building covering 7.5 million square feet (696,772.8 square meters approximately). It is expected to serve 112 destinations around the world.

This $11 billion project is definitely a marvelous building and one that might set an example for future generations of airports in the world.

Beijing Daxing International Airport
Image source: https://goshopbeijing.com/477-2/beijing-daxing-international-airport

King Fahd International Airport

Keeping the number one on the list for a very long time, King Fahd International Airport, with its 780 square kilometers of land, is now the second-largest airport on the list. This amazing international airport, covering basically the area of New York City, has a terminal with an area of 3.5 million square feet (325,160.64 square meters approximately).

An interesting detail about King Fahd International Airport is that it houses a Mosque as big as to accommodate over 2,000 people. Moreover, luxury can be found all over this international airport. If you are looking for top-of-the-class accommodation, you can stay in any of the 250 rooms of the Hilton Hotel located within the airport land.

King Fahd International Airport
Image source: https://www.kafekepo.com/tag/bandara-internasional-pudong-shanghai/

Denver International Airport

The third international airport on the list is Denver International Airport. The biggest airport in the United States with a total area of 52.4 square miles (about 136 square kilometers) is home to astonishing 35,000 employees.

Although not the most modern, since it was first opened in 1995, Denver International Airport houses 23 airlines that include United Airlines and Frontier Airlines while being Southwest Airlines’ main hub.

Also, Denver International Airport serves passenger traffic traveling to 215 different destinations, much more than its Chinese counterpart in Bejing, the “starfish”. Yet, it is not among the top ten busiest airports in the world.

Denver International Airport
Image source: https://www.5280.com/2017/12/big-expensive-and-growing-what-is-the-future-of-dia/

Dallas Fort Worth International Airport

One of the oldest airports on the list as it started operations in 1973, Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) is the second largest airport in the United States after Denver International Airport.

This international airport located in the state of Texas covers an area of 27 square miles (about 70 square kilometers) and serves 260 different destinations, including one of the busiest routes in the country connecting with Los Angeles International Airport. The busiest international route is the one connecting with London Heathrow Airport in the United Kingdom.

One of the most distinctive aspects of Dallas Fort Worth International Airport is that it is technically considered a city by the postal service as it has its own zip code.

Dallas Fort Worth International Airport represents American Airlines’ main hub.

A fun fact that you might not know about this airport is that Dallas Fort Worth International was the first airport in the United States that became carbon neutral, and they are currently working of also becoming a Zero Waste airport as well.

Dallas Fort Worth International Airport
Image source: https://www.dallasnews.com/business/airlines/2020/06/04/dfw-becomes-the-worlds-busiest-airport-during-covid-19-downturn/

Orlando International Airport

Among the major airports in the world, we could not miss North America’s third biggest airport, Orlando International Airport, previously known as McCoy Air Force Base.

Although the airport opened over 40 years ago in 1981, it was designed with the future in mind, knowing that the city was house to Disney World. Hence, Orlando International Airport covers an area of about 60 square kilometers and can handle millions of passengers per year.

Orlando International Airport serves 135 different international destinations and it is the main hub for Silver Airways.

Orlando International Airport
Image source: https://eg-electric.com/projects/orlando-international-airport-mco/

Washington Dulles International Airport

For the sixth international airport on the list, we have to stay in the United States. Washington Dulles International Airport is also the fourth biggest airport in the country with an area of 52.6 square kilometers, covering land belonging to both Fairfax and Loudoun Counties in the north of Virginia.

The name Washington Dulles International Airport was given after John Foster Dulles, 52nd US Secretary of State, and it was first opened in 1962.

Washington Dulles International Airport serves 125 different destinations and it is United Airlines’ main hub.

Washington Dulles International Airport
Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dulles_International_Airport

George Bush Intercontinental Airport

Once more we are in United States territory and with a name given after a political figure, this time former president George Bush.

George Bush Intercontinental Airport is located in Houston, Texas. It covers an area of about 40 square kilometers. While it was originally known as Houston Intercontinental Airport, it was renamed George Bush Intercontinental Airport in 1997.

An interesting aspect of this international airport is that it handles double the amount of passenger traffic than Washington Dulles International Airport despite being half its size of it.

George Bush Intercontinental Airport
Image source: https://upgradedpoints.com/travel/airports/george-bush-intercontinental-iah-airport/

Shanghai Pudong International Airport

Not very surprisingly, we go back to China. Shanghai Pudong International Airport is the second biggest airport in the country with an area of 40 square kilometers.

Considered the main and busiest airport in mainland China, Shanghai Pudong International Airport is the main hub for the most prominent airlines in the country, including the likes of Air China, China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines, Juneyao Airlines, Shanghai Airlines, and Spring Airlines.

First opened in 1999, Shanghai Pudong International Airport is considered the third busiest airport in cargo traffic, although its growth was slowed due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

Shanghai Pudong International Airport Image source: https://www.corgan.com/projects/satellite-concourse/
Image source: https://www.corgan.com/projects/satellite-concourse/

Busiest airports in the world

It is now a good time to speak about the busiest airports in terms of annual passenger traffic. As we mentioned above, the largest airports will not necessarily be the busiest ones.

For example, Cairo International Airport would be next on the list of the largest airports in the world after Shanghai Pudong International Airport, and it would be the only African airport there, but it does not make the cut as part of the busiest ones in the world.

Yet, it is important to highlight that Cairo International Airport is indeed the second busiest airport in Africa. With an area of 37 square kilometers, Cairo International Airport could handle 15 million passengers according to data from 2017.

However, some of the ones mentioned in the list above are also on this list. Without further ado, let’s take a look at the world’s busiest airports.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport

To make things more interesting, the first on the list, meaning the busiest airport in the world is not even mentioned among the largest ones.

What is true is that after being opened in 1980, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport has handled millions of passengers, with a total of 107.4 million passengers in 2018, making it the busiest airport since then.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
Image source: https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hartsfield%E2%80%93Jackson_Atlanta_International_Airport

Dubai International Airport

Although the second busiest is Beijing Daxing International Airport handling over 101 million passengers in 2018, we want to skip to the ones that are not on the list of the largest. Therefore, we move to the third busiest, Dubai International Airport.

An interesting aspect of this Middle East airport is that it serves more international passengers than local ones. In 2018 the total handled reached 89.1 million passengers, and 89 million passengers out of the total were international travelers.

Dubai International Airport Image source:
https://www.dubai.de/sechs-aussergewoehnliche-orte-im-dubai-international-airport/

Los Angeles International Airport

Widely known as LAX, this airport is the one most people use as the origin or final destination, with fewer passengers using it as a connection.

It is capable of handling yearly passenger traffic reaching 87.5 million people, according to data recorded in 2018. What’s more, some sources place it above Dubai International Airport as the third busiest, but the information has not been confirmed.

Los Angeles International Airport
Image source: https://mosaferan.com/Travel/los-angeles-ca-lax-tehran-iran-ika/

Chicago O’Hare International Airport

Another honorable mention of a busy airport is in Chicago. In 2022, Chicago O’Hare International Airport has been named the world’s most connected airport, pushing London’s Heathrow into the shadow.

At peak hours, this airport supported 43,350 available connections. Although there has been a dramatic decrease since the pandemic struck, the number still remains impressive.

Let’s not forget that on top of it is the most connected airport, in 2021, O’Hare International also proudly stood at number 4 for the busiest airports in the world.

O'Hare International Airport Terminal.
Image source: https://skytraxratings.com/airports/chicago-ohare-airport-rating Chicago

Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport

Baiyun International is also on the list of the busiest airports in the world with a staggering number of 40.2 million passengers handled. To add to that, this airport is also the second biggest airport for cargo in China. Of course, just like many airports in the world, this one also suffered a decline in passenger numbers and overall traffic during the pandemic, but it seems to have recovered to normal levels.

While mostly domestic, Baiyun boasts 100 different destinations, around 200 parking bays for aircraft, and a new 2018 terminal, which has increased the airport’s passenger capacity to 80 million.

Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport.
Image source: (CC) Jacky Cheung/Wikimedia

The busiest and largest airport in the world: A conclusion

We could keep going with other very busy and rather large airports such as Tokyo Haneda Airport, Hong Kong International Airport, Bangkok Airport, known as Suvarnabhumi Airport, and many more.

However, you can already have an idea of the many people that go across these places that can be sometimes as big as a city.

All things considered, it becomes clear how critical airport design and airport operations can be. Perhaps it would make sense to find the most convenient location before designing, and while depicting the best layout, all the essential systems like the energy and water management systems should be taken into account very carefully.

Therefore, understanding how airports work can be highly important for any career in the global air transportation industry. If you want to learn all about it, we invite you to enroll in our understanding airport operations course. Check it out and contact us if you have any questions.

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FAQ

How are the busiest airports calculated?

The number is calculated by the total passenger number: all enplaned, all deplaned, and all transiting passengers. The data for this calculation is usually taken from Airports Council International.

Are there any large airport construction projects underway in 2022?

Yes. Currently, a project in Lao Cai, Vietnam to build a large domestic airport able to handle 3 million passengers has begun in 2022. This airport is expected to be built by 2030.

Is there likely to be a bigger airport than Beijing Daxing International Airport?

In the far future, it is likely, because the demand for more efficient air travel is growing by the year. However, in a couple of years to come, there doesn’t seem to be a project to take over the crown of this airport.

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Carlos Collantes
Carlos Collantes
A mechanical engineer and aviation enthusiast dedicated to share some knowledge by creating top-notch content, especially in engineering and aviation topics.

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