Every year, millions of people pass through American airports for travel, family reasons, or work. Some individual airports receive millions of travelers each year, especially those that serve large urban areas or act as transit hubs. So which are the airports where you can expect to find plenty of other people in the security line? Keep reading to find out which are the busiest airports in the US!
Table of Contents
- 15. Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport
- 14. Newark Liberty International Airport
- 13. John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York
- 12. George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Houston
- 11. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport
- 10. Miami International Airport
- 9. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport
- 8. Harry Reid International Airport, Las Vegas
- 7. Orlando International Airport
- 6. Charlotte Douglas International Airport
- 5. Los Angeles International Airport
- 4. Chicago O’Hare
- 3. Denver International Airport
- 2. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport
- 1. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
The United States has some of the busiest airports in the world. In fact, in 2021, the world’s seven busiest airports were all in the US, with other airports also featuring highly on the list. Some airports have dozens of millions of passengers transiting through them each year.
There are a few reasons why the United States has so many busy airports. The country is a popular destination for tourism and business, so the biggest airports receive hundreds of international flights a day. However, the bulk of US air travel, about 89%, comes from domestic flights. The United States is vast, and many people have to fly to reach family or go on business trips.
There are a few criteria to determine which airport is the busiest. The most common, which is also the ranking criteria used by the FAA, is total passenger boarding within a calendar year. Other lists rank airports based on total passenger traffic, which is the criteria this list relies on, or even cargo traffic.
15. Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport
- 28,100,000 passengers (2021)
The last airport on this list is Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, which saw 28.1 million passengers in 2021.
Fort Lauderdale Airport is important for tourism, giving travelers easy access to Fort Lauderdale and other important Florida tourist destinations such as the Everglades. For departing travelers, it offers easy connections to the Caribbean and Latin America.
Several airlines use Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport as a focus airport, including Spirit Airlines and Allegiant Air. The airport is very popular among spring breakers.
14. Newark Liberty International Airport
- 29,000,000 passengers (2021)
The next airport on this list is also part of New York’s airport system, although it is located over state lines in Newark, New Jersey. Busy Newark Liberty International Airport reported 29 million passengers in 2021.
Like JFK, recent years saw Newark take a tumble in the rankings. It is mostly an international airport (in 2017 it was the country’s sixth-busiest in terms of international traffic), so it did not bear the pandemic well.
However, passenger traffic is coming back to Newark, particularly through United Airlines which uses the airport as one of its hubs. In terms of cargo traffic, Newark is also very busy thanks to the presence of FedEx Express.
13. John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York
- 30,800,000 passengers (2021)
According to 2021 flight data, New York’s JFK airport is the 13th busiest airport in the country with 30.8 million passengers. It is the busiest airport in New York’s regional airport system, which also includes Newark and La Guardia.
While 30 million passengers are certainly nothing to sneeze at, for JFK this represents a downgrade. As recently as 2019, this airport was the country’s 6th busiest with 61 million total passengers, double its numbers for 2021.
The reason behind John F. Kennedy International Airport’s sharp decline is the pandemic. While JFK has some domestic flights, the bulk of its traffic comes from international departures and arrivals—huge airlines such as Delta and American Airlines use it as their international hub. Once international travel comes back, so will the busy halls of JFK.
12. George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Houston
- 31,900,000 passengers (2021)
Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport is the 12th busiest airport in the country. In 2021, it received 31.9 million passengers.
George Bush Intercontinental Airport is part of the larger Houston airport system, which also includes the smaller (but still very busy) William P. Hobby Airport and the regional David Wayne Hooks Airport. Together, these three make up an important regional hub and transit point for travelers to Texas.
Bush Intercontinental is the largest in the system and services domestic and international destinations. It is one of the country’s most important hubs to Latin America, although it has flights to five continents. Its busy nature does not mean the airport compromises on quality—in 2020, it won the “Best U.S. Airport” award at the World Airport Awards.
11. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport
- 36,200,000 passengers (2021)
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, affectionately known as Sea-Tac, is the 11th busiest airport in the United States. It saw 17,430,195 passengers boarding and 36.2 million total passengers traveling through it.
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is the biggest airport in the Pacific Northwest, making it an important hub for all residents in the region.
Sea-Tac is only growing. Delta Airlines is using it as a regional hub and the local airline, Alaska Airlines, is expanding. In fact, Alaska Airlines is one of the fastest-growing airlines in terms of overall passenger traffic in the United States, so fans of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport can expect to see it jump in the rankings.
10. Miami International Airport
- 37,200,000 passengers (2021)
Miami International Airport follows closely behind Phoenix Sky Harbor in terms of total passenger traffic. In 2021, it saw 37.2 million passengers transiting through.
While it is 10th in the United States in terms of overall traffic, it is the busiest airport in the country in terms of international traffic. It tops the list both for passenger traffic and cargo traffic.
Miami International Airport is an important hub for travel to Latin America and the Caribbean. Many US airlines, particularly American Airlines, use it as their exclusive hub for those destinations.
9. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport
- 38,800,000 passengers (2021)
Phoenix is another newcomer to the top rankings in terms of airport traffic. In 2019, it was outside the top 10 in terms of traffic. In 2021, it was the 9th busiest airport in the US with 38.8 million passengers.
It helps that Phoenix Sky Harbor serves the 5th largest city in the United States, meaning that there are always plenty of people coming and going.
Phoenix is also an important hub for regional travel as many domestic airlines transfer their passengers through this busy airport.
8. Harry Reid International Airport, Las Vegas
- 39,700,000 passengers (2021)
Fabulous Las Vegas also has a fabulous airport. Harry Reid International Airport, until very recently known as McCarran International Airport, saw 39.7 million passengers in 2021.
Many of those people came to see Las Vegas’s famous strip. As international travel picks back up, so will arrivals to the airport.
However, it’s not just tourism that is responsible for the airport’s high traffic numbers. The airport is an important hub for domestic and regional carriers such as Southwest Airlines. It also might be the only airport where you can play slot machines as you wait for your flight.
7. Orlando International Airport
- 40,300,000 passengers (2021)
Not even a slowdown in international travel could stop this tourism powerhouse. In 2021, it saw 40.3 million passengers travel through its corridors.
Orlando Airport is an important hub for people living in central Florida who want to travel domestically and internationally. However, the “House of Mouse” is a big reason why this airport ranks so highly in terms of traffic—visitors from far and near want to visit Disneyworld.
The early months of 2022 already saw astronomical traffic for Orlando’s airport, so expect this airport to jump in the rankings once official 2022 traffic numbers come out.
6. Charlotte Douglas International Airport
- 43,000,000 passengers (2021)
Charlotte Douglas International Airport may be a surprising entry on this list. North Carolina’s biggest airport saw over 43 million passengers in 2021.
In terms of busy US airports, Charlotte Douglas is the new kid on the block. As recently as 2019, it was in lowly 11th place. It helps that Charlotte Douglas is a hub for domestic, and regional travel, which was less affected during the pandemic.
This airport will only rise in the rankings as the main airline, American Airlines, reports consistent growth every year.
5. Los Angeles International Airport
- 48,007,284 passengers (2021)
Even though nearly 50 million passengers are a lot, for LAX this represents a decrease. In 2019, it was the second-busiest airport in the country with 88 million total passengers.
While LAX is an important hub for domestic travel, particularly along the West Coast, most of its normal traffic comes from international flights. It even has a new designated terminal for flights to Asia and the Pacific. As international travel recuperates and traditional destinations for LAX travelers ease restrictions, it will get even busier.
4. Chicago O’Hare
- 54,000,000 passengers (2021)
Chicago O’Hare, which used to be the busiest airport in the world before 1998 when Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson stole its crown, is now “only” in fourth place. Even in 2021, a year of reduced air travel, 54 million passengers passed through the airport. As international travel slowly recovers, it will probably leapfrog over Denver International Airport in the rankings.
Chicago O’Hare is one of the world’s busiest airports thanks to its status as an international hub. The airport services over 200 destinations domestically and internationally, on all (inhabited) continents. Local authorities are investing in the airport and hoping to add even more destinations.
Hopefully, the new investments will also make O’Hare a more efficient airport, as right now it has the longest wait times of any airport in the United States.
3. Denver International Airport
- 58,500,000 passengers (2021)
Another surprising airport that recently jumped to the top of the US’s busiest list is Denver International Airport. In 2021, this airport saw 58.5 million travelers and 28,645,527 total passengers boarding. This same year was the airport’s first time near the top of US and international rankings in terms of busyness.
One reason why the Denver airport is so busy in recent rankings is that most of the passengers who fly through it are traveling domestically, particularly within the American West. As mentioned above, domestic travel survived the pandemic better than international travel. Several prominent airlines, including Southwest, Frontier, and United, use Denver as a transit hub for domestic flights.
Denver will probably fall on the list once international travel really comes back, but it can console itself with the fact that it is still the US’s biggest airport in terms of size, clocking in at a whopping 135.7 square kilometers.
2. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport
- 62,500,000 passengers (2021)
As of 2021, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport is the second-busiest airport in the United States and the world. Last year, this airport saw 62.5 million travelers pass through. It is also second in the country in terms of boarding numbers, with 30,005,266 total enplanements.
Dallas-Fort Worth airport is a relative newcomer to the top rankings of US airports. As recently as 2019, it was barely making the world’s top 10 list. Part of its rise is due to the fact that most of its travelers are domestic passengers, and domestic travel survived the pandemic better than did international travel.
Another reason why Dallas-Fort Worth grew so rapidly is that American Airlines uses it as a hub. During the pandemic, the airline changed its strategy to redirect even more flights through DFW, including more international flights headed to Asia and Western Europe.
1. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
- 75,700,010 passengers (2021)
- 103,900,00 passengers (2019)
Besides a blip during the COVID-19 pandemic, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport has not only been the busiest airport in the United States but also the world every year running since 1998. In 2019, the airport saw 53,505,795 passengers board flights there. Even during the reduced travel in the pandemic year 2021, 36,676,010 people went to Atlanta airport to get on a flight.
Hartsfield-Jackson is the busiest US airport in terms of any passenger criteria, including total passenger traffic, which in 2021 was at 75.7 million people. In 2019, a whopping 103.9 million people passed through the airport.
There are a few reasons why Hartsfield-Jackson airport is so busy. It helps that it’s near Atlanta, a major metropolitan area and a popular destination for tourism and business. However, many passengers transit through the airport instead of going straight to Atlanta. That’s because Delta, one of the world’s biggest airlines, uses Hartsfield-Jackson as its designated hub.