20 Biggest Airports in the U.S.
Bigger (or, in the case of airports, busier) is not always better. Nor is size an indication of passenger traffic. In fact, some of the most gigantic airports in the U.S. happen to have relatively few people coming through.
We bet few people know which is the largest flying hub in the country. And no, it's not Atlanta. (That's the busiest.)
Here are the 20 biggest airports in America.
20. Austin–Bergstrom International Airport, Texas
Size: 17.2 square kilometers
Passenger traffic: 13.5 million
Bottom Line: Austin–Bergstrom International Airport
When it comes to size, the Texan capital is overshadowed by Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston. But Austin also likes things big and loud. Case in point: its huge airport.
The Austin-Bergstrom Airport covers more than 17 square kilometers — that's about seven square kilometers larger than the Philippines' famous Boracay island!
19. Nashville International Airport, Tennessee
Size: 18.4 square kilometers
Passenger traffic: 15.5 million
Bottom Line: Nashville International Airport
Most people don't realize just how huge Nashville's airport is. That's because a large part of its operations isn't necessarily passenger-related.
Besides serving commercial airlines, four cargo airlines operate from here. A large part of the land is also used as a military airport.
18. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Georgia
Size: 19 square kilometers
Passenger traffic: 75.7 million
Bottom Line: Atlanta International Airport
Atlanta's international airport may not be the biggest in the U.S., but it's the busiest in the entire world. A dizzying 36.7 million people pass through it every year. For perspective, that's a little more than the population of Canada!
Given how much volume the airport handles, it makes sense for it to need a large area. With 192 gates, you'll likely need to take the Plane Train if you are connecting and need to get from one side of the airport to another. It's no mystery why people intensely dislike having to fly through here.
17. Detroit Metropolitan Airport, Michigan
Size: 19.6 square kilometers
Passenger traffic: 23.6 million
Bottom Line: Detroit Metropolitan Airport
Detroit may not yet have recovered to what it was during its heyday, but it's still a highly trafficked destination, especially for air travelers connecting to international destinations.
The Detroit Metropolitan Airport saw more than 23 million passengers in 2021 — and that's in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
16. Raleigh–Durham International Airport, North Carolina
Size: 20.2 square kilometers
Passenger traffic: 8.8 million
Bottom Line: Raleigh–Durham International Airport
While its passenger volume isn't on par with that of big cities, Raleigh-Durham International Airport covers a vast swath of land. Still, despite its size, there are relatively few shopping and dining options. Neither category gets to 25, according to a Booking.com study.
The airport serves the North Carolina capital, neighboring Durham and other towns within the state's Research Triangle. This includes beautiful Chapel Hill, which our readers voted the best college town in the United States.
15. John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York
Size: 21 square kilometers
Passenger traffic: 30.8 million
Bottom Line: John F. Kennedy International Airport
JFK isn't the busiest nor the largest airport in America, but it is one of the most famous. While it isn't perfect, it's the best airport to fly into when you're visiting the Big Apple. No one wants to deal with the hot mess that is La Guardia, and Newark is just too far away.
It's not hard to believe that JFK would be on this list. The airport offers 139 dining options and 121 stores.
14. San Francisco International Airport, California
Size: 21.1 square kilometers
Passenger traffic: 10 million
Bottom Line: San Francisco International Airport
While it can't compete with Los Angeles International Airport in terms of passenger traffic (LAX serves about 49 million people per year), it beats its rival when it comes to size.
We'd also argue that it's aesthetically superior. While LAX is notoriously ugly, San Francisco International Airport, on the other hand, is well-designed and pleasing to the eye. It doesn't have as many dining and shopping options as other airports in the country, but it services about 1,256 flights per day.
13. Charlotte Douglas International Airport, North Carolina
Size: 22.5 square kilometers
Passenger traffic: 43.4 million
Bottom Line: Charlotte Douglas International Airport
As the sixth busiest airport in the world, Charlotte's airport is full of surprises. Most people don't think of it as one of the country's most important hubs for air traffic. Neither do they realize just how huge it is.
In both instances, Charlotte overtakes Raleigh as the preferred stop in the state to connect north to south and the East Coast to Europe.
12. Sacramento International Airport, California
Size: 24.3 square kilometers
Passenger traffic: 9.7 million
Bottom Line: Sacramento International Airport
The neglected state capital of Sacramento is usually an afterthought in people's minds. And yet, the city has California's largest airport.
In terms of volume, it's behind San Francisco's airport only by about 300,000 passengers. That said, in terms of facilities, it offers fewer dining and shopping options than SJO or LAX.
11. Chicago O’Hare International Airport, Illinois
Size: 29.1 square kilometers
Passenger traffic: 54 million
Bottom Line: Chicago O’Hare International Airport
Recently named the best airport in the U.S., Chicago comes out on top in more ways than one. Its 165 restaurants beat out even JFK's numbers. With 2,520 daily flights and 54 million annual passengers, it's also the fourth busiest airport in the entire world.
If you've ever flown into O'Hare, we don't need to tell you what a pleasure it is compared to other national airports. Transportation to the city is a breeze, there is public art throughout the airport, and the gigantic complex has been designed with care.
9. Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, Kentucky (Tie)
Size: 31.2 square kilometers
Passenger traffic: 6.4 million
Bottom Line: Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport
Yes, Cincinnati's airport is in Kentucky, but it still mainly services the Ohio city. Only about 6.4 million people pass through here each year. — which isn't terribly low, but it's nothing compared to the traffic other large airports get.
Not that it matters much, however, because the airport has focused its efforts elsewhere. In recent years, it has rapidly increased its cargo flights, becoming a national center for e-commerce shipping. You probably won't be flying into Cincinnati any time soon. But your Amazon purchases likely will.
9. Salt Lake City International Airport, Utah (Tie)
Size: 31.2 square kilometers
Passenger traffic: 22.38 million
Bottom Line: Salt Lake City International Airport
It's a bit surprising to see Salt Lake City International Airport beat out giants like Chicago, New York and Atlanta. But given the difference in population, it does make sense that Utah's capital would have more space for a sprawling air travel hub.
Most traffic into the state arrives in Salt Lake, which explains the airport's impressive yearly passenger numbers. That said, the airport could do better at servicing people in transit. Despite its gargantuan size, it only offers 24 restaurants and 31 shops.
7. Pittsburgh International (Tie)
Size: 40.5 square kilometers
Passenger traffic: 6.3 million
Bottom Line: Pittsburgh International
Built in the 1990s, the Pittsburgh International Airport was designed to handle the traffic of a thriving city. Back then, about 35 million people flew threw here annually. But the early 21st century wasn't kind to the city's air industry. And while there are signs of revitalization, traffic is still only about 6.3 million yearly passengers.
Much of the space in this large airport is simply not being used anymore. And that probably will only get worse as a new, smaller airport is set to open in 2025. For now, however, this is still where you'll have to fly if you want to experience a city on the cusp of rebirth.
7. George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Texas (Tie)
Size: 40.5 square kilometers
Passenger traffic: 33.7 million
Bottom Line: George Bush Intercontinental Airport
Dallas gets all the attention, but Houston's international (or as it insists on being called, intercontinental) airport is nothing to scoff at. To use a familiar comparison, the airport is equivalent to four Boracay islands.
Needless to say, if you have a connecting flight here, make sure you give yourself enough time to get from one terminal to another.
6. Kansas City International Airport, Missouri
Size: 43.2 square kilometers
Passenger traffic: 3.8million
Bottom Line: Kansas City International Airport
Kansas City is a major conference hub for myriad industries, so the airport is an integral part of the local economy. Located right next to two major highways, it's incredibly easy to go from landing to eating Kansas City BBQ in two shakes of a lamb's tail.
But don't expect to feel as if you're in a big airport when you land. Large chunks of land aren't used for the terminals, so you'll only find about 20 restaurants and even fewer shops.
5. Orlando International Airport, Florida
Size: 51 square kilometers
Passenger traffic: 40.4 million
Bottom Line: Orlando International Airport
People really want to see Disney. Sure, there are other things in Orlando — but let's not kid ourselves, the mouse is really what brings in the crowds. And to handle the traffic, the city has built a large and beautiful international airport.
We'd like to thank ORD for proving that a pleasant airport experience is actually possible. Courtyards with water fountains, skylights that let in the Florida sunshine, over 100 dining options and public art make this an airport you won't mind flying into. Plus, it's so big that you'll have plenty to explore on a long layover.
4. Washington Dulles International Airport, Virginia
Size: 52.6 square kilometers
Passenger traffic: 15 million
Bottom Line: Washington Dulles International Airport
The U.S. capital's international airport gets relatively small traffic (especially compared to Atlanta's 75.7 million annual passengers). It also only operates 781 flights a day. If we're honest, we don't think this is a very interesting airport since it doesn't have as many entertainment, shopping or dining options.
Still, we guess it makes up for its shortcomings in sheer size, given that it takes up 52 square kilometers of Virginia.
3. Southwest Florida International Airport, Florida
Size: 54.9 square kilometers
Passenger traffic: 10.3 million
Bottom Line: Southwest Florida International Airport
We wouldn't blame anyone who forgets that they flew into the Southwest Florida International Airport (better known as the Fort Myers Airport). Made up of boring blocks and beige upon beige upon beige, this is probably one of the least appealing flying centers in the country.
Still, we give it props for handling a decent volume and, especially, for setting aside 6,000 acres (24.3 square kilometers) of its land to be preserved. That's a plot equivalent to the size of Sacramento International Airport.
2. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Texas
Size: 69.6 square kilometers
Passenger traffic: 62.5 million
Bottom Line: Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport
Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport isn't just the second largest in the country, but it's also the second busiest airport in the world. Traversing it often feels like going through a warp in the space-time continuum, simply because it takes so long to get from one place within it to another.
Thankfully, the airport offers Skylink, a transport system that it describes as a "people mover." It's basically an airport tram that takes you to different terminals in a shorter time. While we'd describe the airport's design as "meh" at best, we do appreciate that you can get brisket on a layover.
1. Denver International Airport, Colorado
Size: 135.7 square kilometers
Passenger traffic: 58.8 million
Bottom Line: Denver International Airport
To say that Denver International Airport is huge is an understatement. The massive airport is more than twice as big as the Dallas/Fort Worth airport! Or, for an even more impressive comparison, it's about three-fourths of Washington, D.C. It also has the third-highest passenger traffic in the world.
Why an airport needs to be this gigantic is honestly a mystery. But we will say that it's not the worst place to fly into. Public transit into the city is fast and convenient, and dining options abound (though, sadly, many of them are lacking in quality). We also like that the airport isn't afraid to be bold in design. Its exterior is certainly one of the most interesting in the country.