Air travel in the United States is massive, with over 900 million passengers passing through American airports each year. With so many people flying, some airports handle a lot more traffic than others. The nation’s busiest airports shuttle tens of millions of passengers around the country and the world annually. Navigating these mega travel hubs can be daunting, but understanding how they operate makes for a smoother travel experience.
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is the busiest airport in the world. Located in Atlanta, Georgia, it served over 110 million passengers in 2021 alone. As a major hub for Delta Air Lines, the airport offers flights to over 150 domestic airports and more than 75 international destinations in 50 countries. The airport has five concourses with a total of 182 gates. Getting around can involve taking the Plane Train, an underground people-mover which connects the different concourses.
Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
In second place for busiest U.S. airport is Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), which handled over 69 million travelers last year. LAX has nine passenger terminals arranged in a horseshoe pattern. The Tom Bradley International Terminal handles flights from international carriers, while the other terminals work with domestic airlines. Travelers can walk between terminals in the central area, while shuttles connect the outlying terminals. Construction is underway on the Landside Access Modernization Program, which will connect the terminals via a people mover system by 2023.
Chicago O’Hare International Airport
Chicago O’Hare is one of the busiest US airports, coming in at number three, and having served over 62 million passengers in 2021. O’Hare has four active domestic terminals and one international terminal. The domestic terminals are connected by the Airport Transit System, which is a free people mover train. Travelers arriving at O’Hare have to navigate a confusing maze of terminals, concourses, and gates, so being familiar with the airport’s layout is important to make connections on time.
Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport
The Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport occupies the number four spot. This mega airport situated between Dallas and Fort Worth handled over 54 million travelers last year. It has five terminals connected by the Skylink train system. With nearly 900 daily departures, it’s important to account for the significant distance between gates at this large airport when making connections. Travelers must take Skylink or walk to change between terminals.
Denver International Airport
Denver International Airport comes in at number five, processing over 58 million flyers annually. Opened in 1995, Denver International has a modern, user-friendly layout. Its iconic tented roof makes it easily recognizable. The airport has three concourses connected by an underground automated guideway transit system. Taking the train is the fastest way to navigate from terminal to terminal and reach the gates at this expansive airport.
Research Before You Fly
It’s sensible to check the airport’s website before you fly, so you know where the various terminals are, where the car parks are, and what the charges look like. This will save you time on the day you arrive, and if you are flying into an airport, verify in advance where the car hire desks are (if you are collecting a hire car).
While massive in size, the nation’s busiest airports have amenities and services designed to enhance the travel experience. Understanding the layouts and transportation options helps passengers manage connections during layovers and reach their gates promptly. Advanced technology, quality dining and shopping, and efficient operations make these airports effective hubs for air travel, keeping America connected both domestically and globally.