In a nation as competitive as the United States, it’s little wonder we’d lay claim to some of the biggest and busiest airports around.
The US sees its fair share of air traffic from foreign visitors curious to explore its depths and domestic travelers eager to experience the world.
As a result, the United States has been building and innovating its airports since the Jet Age to support that ever-growing clamor for faster and easier ways to travel.
So, here’s our quick tour of the ones that welcome more passenger traffic than any other and the largest airports in the US that’ll leave you in awe of their size.
Table of Contents
- What is the #1 Airport in the US?
- What Are the Busiest Airports in the US?
- 1. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL): Atlanta, GA
- 2. Los Angeles International Airport (LAX): Los Angeles, CA
- 3. O’Hare International Airport (ORD): Chicago, IL
- 4. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW): Dallas, TX
- 5. Denver International Airport (DEN): Denver, CO
- 6. John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK): Queens, NY
- 7. San Francisco International Airport (SFO): San Francisco, CA
- 8. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA): Seattle, WA
- 9. McCarran International Airport (LAS): Paradise, NV
- 10. Orlando International Airport (MCO): Orlando, FL
- What Are the Biggest Airports in the US?
- What’s the Best Way to Score Deals from Both?
What is the #1 Airport in the US?
The #1 airport in the US is Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia. Though by far not the biggest airport in the US in size, it sees more passenger traffic than any other in the country, serving 110.5 million passengers at its peak in 2019.
What Are the Busiest Airports in the US?
The busiest airports in the US are not always the biggest, and while some of the largest airports in the US are big enough to require their own zip code—looking at you, Dallas—other airports still manage to welcome and serve more passengers all while working with far less space.
So, which airports see the most passengers pass through their doors day after day?
Numbers dropped significantly in 2020 due to the pandemic, but when travel was in full swing, these hotshots were flying high as the top ten busiest airports in the US.
1. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL): Atlanta, GA – 110.5 Million Passengers
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport may take up over 4,700 acres of land, but that impressive size is still over 1,000 acres less than it would need to break into the top ten largest airports in the US.
But what it doesn’t measure in size, it more than makes up for in traffic and efficiency.
Atlanta serves more passengers than any other airport in the US.
Before the pandemic led to dramatic decreases in passenger traffic, it held the title of the world’s busiest airport for over 20 years.
The airport currently services over 225 destinations worldwide through 18 domestic and foreign carriers. All those carriers and destinations mean the airport handles around 2,700 flights per day, overseen by the tallest air traffic control tower in North America.
With so much passenger traffic day in and day out, you might expect Atlanta to be a nightmare to travel through. But the Air Transport Research Society has named it the most efficient airport in the world … for the 18th year in a row!
2. Los Angeles International (LAX): Los Angeles, CA – 88.1 Million Passengers
Is it any surprise that the City of Angels and home of the Hollywood Sign would boast America’s second busiest airport?
This famous airport serves as a hub for not just one or even two but four legacy airlines:
- Alaska Airlines
- American Airlines
- Delta Air Lines
- United Airlines
Sitting on the west coast, LAX serves as the Pacific gateway to popular global destinations. With flights to over 150 cities in the US, Asia, Europe, and more, LAX spoils travelers with choices.
If flying through the second busiest airport in the country and the third busiest in the world is likely to stress you out, the Los Angeles International Airport offers plenty of options for relaxing.
Try grabbing a drink at one of the airport’s terrific restaurants, enjoying the artwork on display throughout the terminals, or petting an adorable volunteer pooch from the LAX Pets Unstressing Passengers (PUP) Program.
3. O’Hare International Airport (ORD): Chicago, IL – 84.3 Million Passengers
Sitting on over 7,200 acres, O’Hare International Airport takes seventh in the rankings for largest airports in the US.
These are pretty impressive stats considering it’s also the third busiest airport in the country.
Originally an aircraft manufacturing plant during WWII, after the war ended, Orchard Field—as it was then known—was chosen as the location for Chicago’s second airport. It opened commercially in 1955 and was the world’s busiest airport from 1963 to 1998 before Atlanta dethroned it in ‘99.
O’Hare may no longer be king, but it’s still an impressive airport and constantly growing.
Passengers can catch flights to over 230 domestic and international destinations flying out of 192 gates, most of them leased by the two hub carriers:
- America Airlines: 71 gates
- United Airlines: 82 gates
4. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW): Dallas, TX – 75.1 Million Passengers
With an impressive size of over 17,000 acres, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport might as well be its own city. As far as the postal service is concerned, it is.
This airport has all the makings of a designated city: a zip code, police department, fire department, and emergency medical services. The crazy part is Dallas still doesn’t top the rankings for the largest airports in the US. Instead, it comes in at number two.
Serving almost 260 destinations globally, 23 airlines operate out of DFW’s 164 gates. The biggest airline operator, American Airlines, is headquartered in Fort Worth and offers flights to destinations worldwide.
Despite its size, or perhaps because of it, DFW has focused on minimizing its environmental impact to the point where it is now the largest carbon-neutral airport in the world.
5. Denver International Airport (DEN): Denver, CO – 69 Million Passengers
Just a few million passengers shy of fourth place, Denver comes in at number 5 among the busiest airports in the country. However, that’s nothing compared to its showing as the biggest airport in the US.
Denver would also rank first globally if not for the King Fahd International Airport in Saudi Arabia. Still, it’s undeniably one of the world’s biggest airports and staggering in its size. At just under 34,000 acres, it’s nearly double that of the next largest airport in Dallas/Fort Worth.
Denver International Airport currently supports 24 airlines flying to over 200 destinations worldwide, but not all of the airport’s space is in use. The city plans to expand the airport’s three concourses with updates, including new gates and outdoor decks.
The Denver Airport already has plenty to see before the expansion’s completed, though, with countless shops and an incredible art collection spread throughout the airport.
Travelers can also pass the time ice skating in the Denver Plaza or getting in some cuddles with volunteer therapy animals to help dispel pre-flight jitters.
Travelers everywhere recognize and appreciate the experience at Denver International Airport to the level that Skytrax World Airport rated it as one of the top airports in the world in 2020.
6. John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK): Queens, NY – 62.5 Million Passengers
In the City That Never Sleeps, neither does the airport.
Like a few others on this list, JFK airport has dual citizenship on both the biggest and busiest airports lists, coming in as the ninth biggest and sixth busiest airport.
Over 70 airlines operate out of JFK’s eight terminals, including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and JetBlue.
With so many airlines making use of its terminals, JFK stands as a major gateway for the rest of the world entering the States, handling more international air traffic than any other airport in North America at 34.3 million passengers.
As if that wasn’t already impressive enough, the airport also sports a unique hotel. The TWA Hotel was seen as a way to repurpose the headhouse of the TWA Flight Center, which had been declared a landmark in 1994 but shut down operations in 2001.
Now, it serves as a vintage rest stop for weary travelers, with multiple museum exhibits throughout the terminal detailing the TWA’s fascinating history.
7. San Francisco International Airport (SFO): San Francisco, CA – 57.4 Million Passengers
San Francisco International Airport is essentially the big brother to LAX. While it may not be as popular, it’s certainly of the same breed and caliber airport as its younger sibling.
The biggest airport along the west coast at over 5,000 acres, San Francisco would also be the busiest airport in California if not for LAX. Instead, it can claim the title of the busiest airport in the Bay Area.
That’s not its only claim to fame either.
The San Francisco International Airport is the first and only airport with an accredited museum inside its doors.
SFO supports international flights to over 140 destinations out of four passenger terminals, three domestic and one international. Prior to the pandemic, the top destinations out of SFO were Los Angeles for domestic flights and London for international ones.
While 48 airlines operate out of San Francisco International Airport, the two that transport the most passengers are the airport’s hub airlines: Alaska Airlines and United Airlines.
8. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA): Seattle, WA – 51.8 Million Passengers
Just barely beating out McCarran International Airport as the eighth busiest airport in the US is Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
The airport was initially built in 1944 as a response to Pearl Harbor, after the military seized control of Boeing Field, thus limiting airport access to the general public.
Since its opening, Seattle-Tacoma International has grown to become the largest airport in the Pacific Northwest, operating flights across North America, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.
Sea-Tac is a hub for Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines, but 30 airlines operate flights to 91 domestic destinations and 27 international destinations, including Vancouver, Seoul, Amsterdam, and Dubai.
The Port of Seattle is currently working on projects to expand its current concourses and improve the customer experience and sustainability of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
9. McCarran International Airport (LAS): Paradise, NV – 51.5 Million Passengers
Las Vegas’s reputation as a gambling city is evident from the minute you touch down at McCarran International Airport. Inside, you’ll find something that exists in only two airports in all of the US: slot machines.
With its location just two miles from the Las Vegas Strip, visitors can get a taste of classic Las Vegas during their layover or as one last hurrah after the excitement of the Strip.
The biggest airlines operating out of McCarran International Airport are budget carriers, including Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines, and Frontier Airlines.
However, over 30 airlines fly in and out of the two terminals and 110 gates that make up the Las Vegas airport, providing flights to 150 destinations worldwide.
Despite the many destinations available, the most popular ones remain close to home: Dallas, Denver, and Los Angeles.
While it’s been known as McCarran International Airport since 1968, the name will soon be getting a facelift. As of February 2021, the Clark County Commission voted to change the airport’s name to Henry Reid International, and the airport plans to put up new signage to reflect the name change.
10. Orlando International Airport (MCO): Orlando, FL – 50.6 Million Passengers
The home of the most magical place on earth. It seems only fitting that Orlando International Airport should round out our count of the busiest airports in the US. But, of course, that’s not its only imposing figure, as Orlando is also the third biggest airport in the country.
With its central location in Florida, it also serves as a funnel to other popular destinations in the Sunshine State, but make no mistake, the city of Orlando is a popular draw in and of itself.
And it’s not just the attractions that manage to delight visitors, but the airport as well, with Orlando International Airport being voted the best airport in the country by USA Today readers.
With 31 airlines servicing routes to over 150 destinations in the US and abroad, Orlando International shoulders its fair share of passenger traffic. It is the perfect gateway to Latin America, the Caribbean, and other global hotspots.
What Are the Biggest Airports in the US?
Now you know the busiest airports in the US, but how do they rank in terms of sheer size?
Of course, as we mentioned above, the busiest airports aren’t always the largest.
But while the US airports that see the most traffic and those with the most surface area might not perfectly match up one to one, several airports can claim the unique honor of being among the top ten busiest and largest airports in the US.
Six airports that topped the list for busiest US airports also managed to nab a top spot among the biggest airports in America.
- Denver International Airport: 135.69km²
- Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport: 69.63km²
- Orlando International Airport: 53.83km²
- Washington Dulles International Airport: 52.6km²
- George Bush Intercontinental Airport: 40.46km²
- Salt Lake City International Airport: 31.16km²
- O’Hare International Airport: 30.86km²
- San Francisco International Airport: 21.07km²
- John F. Kennedy International Airport: 21.04km²
- Detroit Metropolitan Airport: 19.6km²
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