Here's a staggering fact: The world's 20 busiest airports, as designated by Airports Council International, welcomed 1.5 billion passengers in 2017, 5.2 percent more than the year before.
If that number makes you shudder, that's perfectly understandable. Anyone who's been stuck in a long security line or had to run between flights while fighting throngs of luggage-toting travelers understands how painful a crowded airport experience can be. But take heart: These packed airlines also boast plenty of amenities to ease your travel woes.
Here, we round up facts and figures on the busiest airports in the world...while providing advice on how to survive and even enjoy them.
Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Atlanta, United States
This airport, which welcomed more than 100 million passengers last year, has been the busiest in the world for an astounding 20 consecutive years. This is in large part thanks to its status as the headquarters for Delta, and a focus city for Frontier, Southwest and Spirit. It's also within a two-hour flight of 80 percent of the United States’ population.
Since there’s a good chance you’ll be passing through its terminals in the next few years, we suggest checking out its first-rate art collection. The airport hosts not only exciting rotating exhibits, but permanent exhibits like “Walk Through Atlanta History,” curated by the Atlanta History Museum.
Beijing Capital International Airport, China
In addition to serving businesspeople and tourists coming into and out of Beijing — the world’s second most-populous city — this airport serves as a hub for Air China, the flag carrier for the People’s Republic of China. Last year, it welcomed 95.8 million passengers.
But don't fret: Efficiency is key here, making it possible to beat the crowds. In April 2018, the airport debuted face-scanning technology at one of its terminals, which is predicted to accelerate passenger processing times from 160 to 266 an hour.
Dubai International Airport, United Arab Emirates
It should come as little surprise that the airport servicing fast-growing Dubai is, in addition to being ranked third for passenger traffic, ranked No. 1 when it comes specifically to international travelers. It also helps explain why the airport has no intention of slowing down soon: It’s pumping $7.8 billion into an ambitious expansion plan through 2020. Last year, it welcomed 88.2 million passengers; by 2020, it’s expecting 143 million.
Need to catch some shut-eye before a flight? The airport offers igloo-style sleep pods and “SnoozeCubes” — cubicles with a bed, TV, storage and Wi-Fi.
Tokyo International (Haneda) Airport, Japan
Haneda serves as the primary base for Japan’s largest domestic airlines, Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways, making it the busiest of Tokyo’s two airports (the other is Narida Airport). Some 85.4 million passengers passed through last year.
By all accounts, Haneda does a remarkably good job accommodating the masses. Skytrax named it the third best airport in the world in 2018, and number one for cleanliness. Features include first-rate shopping and a striking mix of historic and modern architecture.
Los Angeles International Airport, United States
In addition to having one of the coolest airport codes in the industry — LAX — Los Angeles International is the only in the country to serve as a hub for all three U.S. legacy airlines, American, Delta and United. Incredibly, despite serving 84.6 million passengers last year, it is far from the only airport in the densely populated L.A. area; Hollywood Burbank Airport, John Wayne Airport, Long Beach Airport and Ontario International Airport all welcome millions of passengers as well.
In 2017, the airport opened a VIP terminal featuring 13 suites, private attendants and ferrying service to planes in a BMW7 Series Sedan — perfect for the city’s pampered A-list stars.
O’Hare International Airport, Chicago, United States
Servicing Chicago alongside Midway Airport, O’Hare is a heavy-hitter that welcomed 79.8 million passengers last year, a number that is poised to swell in the coming years. In March 2018, the airport greenlit an $8.5 billion expansion, the largest in the airport’s history. Also on tap: a 20-minute express train from the airport to downtown Chicago.
In April 2018, mayoral candidate Garry McCarthy suggested opening a casino and poker room at the airport as well. That idea, though, remains a fantasy for now.
Heathrow Airport, London, United Kingdom
The primary hub for British Airways and the primary operating base for Virgin Atlantic accommodated 78 million passengers last year. On Good Friday of 2018, it recorded its busiest single day ever, welcoming an astounding 136,000 (likely harried and disgruntled) travelers.
Spenders, take note: Heathrow was named the best in the world for shopping by Skytrax in 2018, thanks to its diversity of options and high-class shops selling swag from Armani, Bulgari, Hermes, Prada and more. (It also ranked as the world's 8th best airport overall.)
Hong Kong International Airport
Hong Kong International serves as the largest air cargo hub in the world and is a hub for Oneworld Alliance, which counts American Airlines, British Airways, Japan Airlines and Qantas among its members.
Luckily, the airport knows how to keep its globetrotters — 72.7 million last year — entertained. The airport features an IMAX screen that’s the largest in all of Hong Kong, golf simulation games and the Aviation Discovery Centre, which explores the history of aviation in the territory.
According to Skytrax, Hong Kong also offers the best dining options among all airports.
Shanghai Pudong International Airport, China
The primary hub for China Eastern Airlines and Shanghai Airlines serviced 70 million passengers last year. And with plans for a third terminal and a satellite terminal with two more runways in the works, the airport should soon be able to accommodate even more.
Weary journeyers can enjoy a quick nap at the T2 Max VIP Hourly Lounge, where cozy rooms may be rented by the hour.
Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, France
This airport boasts a noble inspiration for its name: Charles de Gaulle was a general who led the French Resistance against Nazi Germany during World War II. Today, the distinguished-sounding airport serves as the primary hub for Air France, which helps explain its high passenger count — 69.5 million last year.
It should come as little surprise that this Parisian airport also prides itself on offering first-rate dining. In addition to charming bistros, a handful of restaurants serve gourmet fare like caviar and fresh seafood.
Amsterdam Airport Schipol, Netherlands
This hub for KLM, the flag carrier for the Netherlands, welcomed 68.5 million passengers last year. And that's only the beginning: An expansion project costing 500 million euros is slated for completion in 2023.
In February 2018, the airport started trialling a food-delivery service, so passengers can have food like sushi, pizza and burgers hand-delivered to them before they board. It’s the first airport in Europe to be experimenting with the clever concept.
Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, United States
As they say in Texas, go big or go home.
Last year, Dallas/Fort Worth welcomed a whopping 67.1 million passengers. In addition to Texas drawing global travelers, the airport is home to American Airlines’ hub — the second largest in the world, after Atlanta’s for Delta.
Like the Atlanta airport, Dallas is also rich with art, featuring the work of 30 artists from the local community and around the world. Stunning sculpture, mosaics and paintings are common sights in International Terminal D and the Skylink station.
Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport, China
Among the 20 busiest airports in the world, Guangzhou is the second fastest-growing; it spiked 10.3% in traffic between 2016 and 2017, to 65.8 million passengers. The bustling airport serves as the hub for China Southern Airlines, FedEx Express, 9 Air, Hainan Airlines and Shenzhen Airlines.
Like its Chinese counterpart in Beijing, the airport is a tech wonder. It recently started utilizing cutting-edge facial-recognition systems to expedite its check-in processing.
Frankfurt Airport, Germany
Not only is Frankfurt the hub for Lufthansa, it’s also the headquarters for Star Alliance, which includes major players like Air China, Turkish Airlines and United Airlines. Lufthansa and the Alliance collectively account for 77 percent of the airport’s passenger traffic, which clocked in at 64.5 million last year.
Those who hate layovers should take note: Frankfurt offers more nonstop routes than any other airport in the world. It also comes outfitted with distinctive amenities, like a visitors’ terrace overlooking takeoffs and landings and a hip graffiti wall well-suited to the edgy-artsy city it serves.
Istanbul Atatürk Airport, Turkey
The main hub for Turkish Airlines saw nearly 64 million passengers pass through its terminals last year. But soon, that number will drop to zero: A massive brand-new airport in Istanbul is designed to open its first phase at the end of 2018, entirely replacing Atatürk for commercial flights.
The hope is that the new airport will be able to better meet growing demand; Atatürk is limited in capacity because it’s surrounded by urban Istanbul. The new airport will be located further afield of the city center, between the coastal towns of Yeniköy, Tayakadin and Akpinar.
Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi, India
Passenger traffic at this Indian airport swelled an incredible 14.1% between 2016 and 2017, the most of any airport on this list. With this growth, it served 63.5 million passengers.
Considering it had to deal with millions more passengers, it’s particularly impressive that the airport also managed to nab the top spot for Airport Service Quality among large airports. Perhaps guests were feeling benevolent after enjoying the airport’s R&R offerings, including sleeping pods and two onsite spas.
Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, Jakarta, Indonesia
The busiest airport in the Southern Hemisphere, Jakarta accommodated 63 million passengers last year. This number, though, should soon be eclipsed; the airport is looking to open a third runway so it can host 100 million passengers by 2025.
Those planning a trip to explore Indonesia will love the airport’s scene-setting local touches, including tropical gardens between the waiting areas and design details in the Javanese pendopo and joglo styles.
Singapore Changi Airport
Yes, welcoming 62.2 million passengers and serving as the home base for Singapore Airlines, Singapore Airlines Cargo, SilkAir, Scoot, Jetstar Asia Airways and BOC Aviation is impressive. But arguably more impressive is the fact that this airport was named the best in the world by Skytrax in 2018. Industry experts love not only the airport's professionalism, but its memorable features, like a rooftop garden filled with sunflowers grown at an onsite nursery.
Meanwhile, only bigger and better things await: A new wing aimed at challenging the “sterility and soullessness of airport design” is in the works. Planned features include a 40-meter-high waterfall.
Incheon International Airport, Seoul, South Korea
Incheon, which welcomed 62.2 million passengers last year, is the main hub for Korean Air, Asiana Airlines, Jeju Air and Polar Air Cargo. It is also an airport of the highest quality, landing in second place on Skytrax's 2018 list of the world’s best airports.
That distinction makes sense considering the airport's astounding array of amenities, including an ice skating rink, a spa, a casino and a golf course that’s accessible via a five-minute complimentary shuttle ride.
Denver International Airport, United States
Some 61.4 million passengers visited Denver’s airport last year. And many, it seems, enjoyed doing so. The airport has been ranked the best in the United States by Skytrax (and number 29 in the world).
The airport, which serves as the primary hub for Frontier Airlines, boasts amenities like rotating art exhibits and bars and restaurants serving locally grown craft beers.