America is home to many busiest airports, from John F. Kennedy in New York City to Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta, Georgia. Serving as main hubs for major airlines such as JetBlue, American Airlines, or United, these airports are often buzzing (especially during peak season) as they host over 1,000 flights a day.

There are many ways to classify airports. Let’s look at the busiest airports in the United States in terms of passenger traffic. Passenger traffic is the number of passengers (international or domestic) that pass through an airport in a given period of time, usually a year.

Airports Council International (ACI) World released its preliminary ranking of global airport traffic in April 2021 - covering passenger traffic, cargo volumes, and aircraft movements for 2020. In the passenger traffic rankings, it is interesting to observe that among the top ten busiest airports in the world, three of them are American, with Atlanta Airport second only to Guangzhou BaiYun International Airport in China and Dallas Fort/Worth Airport and Denver Airport in fourth and eighth place, respectively.

So which are the busiest airports in the country? Let’s have a look at the top 5 busiest airports in the United States, according to the data recorded in 2020.

1.  HARTSFIELD-JACKSON ATLANTA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT,        GEORGIA

First place goes to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, which has been the busiest airport by passenger traffic for many years now. Surprised? It is natural to assume that the airport with the highest traffic of passengers is located in some of the largest cities in the world, such as New York, Dubai, London, or Shanghai. So, why does ATL currently occupy the first position in the ranking?

Atlanta ranks only ninth among cities with the largest metropolitan area and currently has a population of about 6 millions inhabitants. However, in 2019 it recorded a total of 110 million passengers. This means traffic of about 300,000 travelers every day between domestic or international flights.

In 2020 Atlanta airport remained its leading position despite the decrease in the passenger flow of 61.2% compared to the previous year, serving in total 42.9 million transit passengers

Among the main factors that have made Atlanta airport one of the busiest nationwide and globally are:

●       ATL is the only major airport in Georgia within 250 miles, allowing people to reach most major U.S. cities within a two-hour flight.

●       This is the main hub for Delta Airlines - the second largest airline in the U.S and one of the largest airlines in the world.

●       Its location in the south of the country is also a key, creating a natural connection point between the United States, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

2.  DALLAS, FORT WORTH INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, TEXAS

Dallas/Fort Worth International is the second busiest airport in the U.S. and the busiest of Texas. This airport was created in the second half of the 20th century, and it is the only airport in the world with seven operational runways. It is located approximately halfway between Dallas and Fort Worth and is the second-largest airport by land area in the United States, after Denver Airport. In fact, it covers 17,207 acres, which is larger than the entire island of Manhattan, and for its dimension, it also has its own zip code.

Dallas/Fort Worth airport serves 260 destinations (67 international and 193 domestic). It has five terminals and 182 gates. DFW is the ninth busiest international gateway in the U.S and the second busiest international gateway in Texas. This airport is also the largest hub for American Airlines, based near the airport. American Airlines is considered the largest airline worldwide.

In 2019, the total number of transit passengers was 75 million, letting DFW reach only 4thplace in the ranking of the busiest airports of the U.S. In 2020 there was a lower volume of passengers (39,364,990) due to the pandemic, which led to a decrease of 47.6%, compared to 2019. Nevertheless, it helped DFW gain the second position as the busiest airport in the U.S., surpassing Los Angeles International Airport and Chicago Airport.

3.  DENVER INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, COLORADO

Denver International Airport is the largest airport in North America and the second-largest globally in terms of size. However, it only ranks third as the busiest airport in the United States.

The airport is a 25-mile drive from downtown Denver and covers about 34,000 acres and 53 square miles, making it larger than both San Francisco or Manhattan. Runway 16R/34L, with a length of 16,000 feet (3.03 mi; 4.88 km), is the longest runway for public use in North America and the seventh longest in the world. Opened in 1995, it required a budget of more than $2 billion to be completed.

DEN currently has service to 215 destinations (including 189 destinations within the U.S.), operated among 23 different airlines throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, and Asia; it is the fourth airport in the U.S. to exceed 200 destinations.

DEN is also the main hub for Frontier Airlines and Great Lakes Airlines and a base for Southwest Airlines, pulling down $26.3 billion for the economy.

A total number of passengers of 69,015,703 was recorded in 2019. In comparison, in 2020, there were only 33,741,129 transit passengers, a decrease of 51.1%, which, however, placed it third in the ranking.

4.  CHICAGO O’HARE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, ILLINOIS

Chicago O'Hare International Airport dropped one position in the ranking of the busiest airports in the U.S. It was the third busiest airport in 2019, with a total of 84,649,115 passengers. In 2020 sharply reduced air traffic levels and travel and it recorded a total traffic passengers of 30,860,251, that means a decrease of 63.5% compared to 2019.

However, O’Hare International is still a high-traffic airport. Established as an airfield that served as a production facility for C-54 military transports during World War II, ORD was the first major airport designed after the war. In the second half of the 20th century, it gained more relevance and became the busiest airport in the world from 1963 to 1998.

Today ORD is home to United Airlines, the third largest airline in the world, with a strategic position connecting thousands of airports worldwide. However, most of its traffic comes from domestic flights.

5.  LOS ANGELES INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, CALIFORNIA

Los Angeles International Airport is located about 20 miles southwest of downtown Los Angeles and can be considered well located for tourists, as it is close to the coast of Venice Beach and Santa Monica. As the largest and busiest international airport on the U.S. West Coast, LAX is a major international gateway to the U.S and serves as a connection point for passengers traveling internationally.

It is the fourth busiest airport globally in terms of passenger traffic and the 11th busiest in terms of cargo traffic, with a volume of more than 87 million passengers and 2 million tons of freight and mail in 2018. It is also the busiest airport in the state of California. In terms of international passenger traffic, it ranks as the second busiest airport in the U.S, only behind JFK in New York City.

In the ranking of the busiest airports in the U.S for traffic passengers, LAX Airport held the second position with 88,068,013 of passengers in transit in 2019. However, in 2020, due to the impacts of the pandemic, it recorded a total of 28,779,527 passengers, with a major decrease of 67.3%, and resulting in a drop to the fifth position.