If I paid asked you what the busiest airport in the world is, would you have any clue? I’m sure you can venture a semi-educated guess, like John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City (that would be my first guess).
Nope. Not even close.
Or, maybe Heathrow Airport in London, since it’s the hub of Europe, which is sort of the halfway point on the map to people who don’t really understand how maps work compared to our actual spherical earth with no center point (like me).
So, you might even surmise that since China is the country with the greatest population in the world, that Beijing airport in China would be the busiest on the globe.
Y’all aren’t even close.
Can you believe that the world’s busiest airport is…drum roll please…Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport? Huh?
Really? Yup, it’s true, as Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (let’s just use the IATA code of ATL to avoid me writing that out ten more times) is the busiest for passenger traffic in the entire world for 2017.
In fact, ATL in Atlanta, Georgia saw 103,902,992 passengers fly in or out (or both) in 2017 alone. To put that insane number in perspective, there are about 340 million people in the entire U.S.A., and if we take out minors, we have an adult population of about 250 million (super approximately). Of course, there are plenty of foreign passengers flying to ATL and a ton who fly more than once, but it puts that 103 million number in context!
Not only was ATL first in 2017, but it’s kept that top honor for – get this – at least 17 years running, since 2000! Yes, ATL has been the busiest airport in the entire world every single year since before 9/11 (and maybe much further back than that.) In 2000, ATL saw “only” 80 million passengers and has grown steadily since then.
In 2017, ATL saw its traffic actually shrink by (a minuscule) 0.3% from 2016.
So how is it possible that a seemingly regional airport in a state that’s not an international hot spot is the most traveled in the entire U.S.?
When you think about it, it might make sense. First off, about two-thirds of all air travel in the entire world takes place in (or above) the U.S.
So despite the fact that China has the biggest population (but spread out over Beijing (#2 in the world), Hong Kong (#8), etc.) and Europe is popular (but diluted between London (#6), Paris (#10), etc.), it makes sense that the most popular airport is in the U.S.
From there, LA (4th in the world in 2017) and NY’s JFK (#22) airports are definitely busy, but they sit on the west and east extremes of the country. ATL, however, sits a little bit more (but not much) equidistance, so it serves as a major hub, with thousands of connections to other points of arrival and departure every day. Furthermore, ATL is in a warm climate, so the major airlines love stopping there (or basing their operations there), as there are far fewer delays, cancellations, or weather problems.
Once we put it that way, it makes perfect sense that ATL is the top airport in the world for passenger traffic!