Heathrow Airport
Heathrow Airport: ‘The Departures level in Terminal 5’ from tubewalker.com.

A little while ago, back in August, 2011, the Airports Council International released their annual report on the busiest airports in the world by passenger traffic. Even though these are the busiest airports, as far as passengers in and out, it may make the mind consider the cities that each of these top airports are located to be the most ideal place to live or base oneself if they are a frequent traveler. However, this is not the case, though it is definitely a factor in each city’s consideration.

Many large, world cities have multiple airports serving them, due to space restrictions and air traffic control. Atlanta’s Hartsfield–Jackson International Airport has been the world’s busiest airport each year for over a decade now, but that doesn’t make Atlanta the frequent flier’s dream city to base themselves. So, let’s use another measure: the busiest city airport systems in the world. An airport system is a group of airports that serve a city’s metropolitan area, meaning that they must be a reasonable distance from the hub city that they ultimately serve. For example, my city of New York is quite large and accommodates some of the highest passenger traffic in the world; NYC’s airport system would include John F. Kennedy Int’l, LaGuardia Airport, Newark Liberty Airport, Westchester County Airport, Long Island MacArthur Airport, and Stewart International Airport. These airports combined as New York City’s airport system make NYC quite convenient as a traveler.

So, here’s the list based on the busiest airport systems in the world:

25. Jakarta

Coming in at number 25, Indonesia’s capital city is served primarily through Soekarno–Hatta International Airport. Though there are two other smaller airports in the area, Soekarno-Hatta is the primary one, as the other two serve more private/corporate/governmental purposes. In 2010, Soekarno-Hatta Int’l handled 43,981,022 total passengers, and work is currently underway for a new Terminal 3 that alone will be capable of handling 43 million passengers, doubling capacity.

24. Bangkok

Bangkok, Thailand has two airports: Suvarnabhumi Airport (also known as (New) Bangkok International Airport) and Don Mueang International Airport. Suvarnabhumi is the primary one, and Bangkok’s central location makes it a great hub and stopover point for many flights originating and ending in southeast Asia. Combined, the two airports served 44,262,347 passengers in 2010.

23. Amsterdam

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, the Netherlands’ capital city’s airport, is the 5th busiest airport in the world as far as international passengers, because it is a central hub for many airlines with service in and around Europe. KLM Airlines has its base here, which means that several of its partners on the SkyTeam Alliance (Delta, Air France, Alitalia, etc.) also use it as a layover point on trips ending elsewhere in Europe. In 2010, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol handled a total of 45,211,749 passengers.

22. Dubai

Dubai International Airport, serving the city and the emirate of Dubai, is the main airport in Dubai, as well as the busiest airport in the United Arab Emirates, and the Middle East, for that matter. Al Maktoum International Airport (Dubai World Central International Airport) will soon open, supplementing Dubai’s capacity for passenger traffic. Dubai handles 47,180,628, as of 2010.

21. São Paulo

South America’s busiest airport system is located in the Brazilian city of São Paulo, which has a large system of four airports: Guarulhos–Governador André Franco Montoro International AirportCongonhas AirportViracopos–Campinas International AirportCampo de Marte Airport, and São José dos Campos-Professor Urbano Ernesto Stumpf Airport (these guys have some kind of fetish for really long names). It makes sense that it would require all these airports to serve the largest city in the southern hemisphere and the 7th largest city in the world. In 2010, São Paulo handled 48,224,873 passengers, many of whom fly on to other places further south in South America.

20. Houston

George Bush Intercontinental Airport and William P. Hobby Airport work together to accommodate the United State’s 4th largest city. Bush Intercontinental is also a primary hub for flights originating/ending in South America from/to the U.S. Combined, these two airports served 49,533,570 travelers in 2010.

19. Madrid

Madrid-Barajas Airport is the primary airport that serves the capital and largest city in Spain. With its location in far-western Europe, it is an ideal layover point for many flights between North America and Europe, and a key connection point especially between Europe and Latin America. Madrid handled 49,786,202 passengers in 2010, making it #19 on our list.

18. Hong Kong

Hong Kong International Airport, or Chek Lap Kok Airport as it is colloquially known, is the main airport serving the region of Hong Kong. It is an amazing airport, impressive in all its stats: it employs over 60,000 people, consistently ranks high in the Skytrax World Airport Awards, and handles flights from over 90 different airlines around the world. Its location is ideal, serving as an important connection point between mainland China and southeast Asia. In 2010, this airport saw 50,410,819 passengers pass through.

17. Moscow

Russia’s capital city has three key airports serving the metropolitan area: Domodedovo International AirportSheremetyevo International Airport, and Vnukovo International Airport. These three airports combined to provide service for 50,958,643 travelers in 2010.

16. Seoul

Seoul is the capital and largest city of South Korea, and Incheon International Airport and Gimpo International Airport serve the needs of the city as a unified system, meaning that passengers can transfer from one to the other using the T-money smart card. The city over the last decade has been rapidly taking over in sectors such as technology and finance, and because of this, 51,044,826 passengers passed through Seoul’s airport system in 2010.

15. Denver

Denver International Airport in Colorado is centrally located in the United States, making it a great connection point for many airline. United/Continental Airlines use this as one of their primary hubs in the U.S., and it is the headquarters of the low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines. It is the second largest airport in the world, at 53 sq. miles. In 2010, 52,211,242 passengers were served at DEN.

14. Frankfurt

Though Frankfurt is only the 5th largest city in Germany, it is the largest financial center in continental Europe and the transportation center of Germany. Being the transportation center allows it to come in at number 14 on the list, having served 56,172,796 travelers in 2010 at its two major airports: Frankfurt am Main Airport and Frankfurt-Hahn Airport. Frankfurt am Main Airport is also the headquarters of Germany’s flag-carrier airline, Lufthansa.

13. San Francisco

San Francisco’s Bay Area is home to the largest tech industry concentration in the world, and it is also one of the leading tourist destinations in the United States. San Fran has 3 main airports: San Francisco International AirportOakland International Airport, and the Norman Y. Mineta Memorial San Jose International Airport. These 3 airports worked together to serve 56,905,161 Bay Area passengers in 2010.

12. Washington D.C./Baltimore

The capital of the United States is not a big city, but its outlying regions in the Baltimore, Maryland and northern Virginia are home to many government agencies and contractors. Thus, the area requires an impressive airport system. Washington Dulles International AirportRonald Reagan Washington National Airport, and Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport combined to assist 63,633,817 passengers in 2010, making it the 12th largest airport system in the world.

11. Miami

The Miami/Ft. Lauderdale metropolitan area at the southern tip of Florida is the gateway for many between North America and Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. It is also a popular vacation area for many, so the area’s three major airports rightly take a high spot on the list, serving 63,998,275 travelers in 2010. Miami International AirportFort Lauderdale – Hollywood International Airport, and Palm Beach International Airport work together to serve this southeast corner of the United States.

10. Dallas/Ft. Worth

Coming in at #10 on the list of busiest airport systems in the world is the Dallas-Ft. Worth, Texas metropolitan area. The two primary airports are Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and Dallas Love Field. Dallas/Ft. Worth Int’l is the headquarters and main hub for American Airlines, one of the largest airlines in the world, which probably significantly boost the stops at this airport. Combined, these two airports saw 64,867,419 passengers pass through in 2010.

9. Shanghai

As the largest city proper in the world, with 23,019,148 residents (2010), it is kind of a wonder that the Shanghai region’s airport system doesn’t rank higher. Shanghai Pudong International Airport and Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport are the two primary airports, serving a total of 71,684,808 passengers in 2010.

8. Beijing

China’s capital city has only two major airports, Beijing Capital International Airport and Beijing Nanyuan Airport. Beijing has stood the test of time, being one of the most important cities in China for hundreds of years. The two airports saw 76,171,801 passengers pass through in 2010.

7. Los Angeles

The second largest city in the United States, Los Angeles makes it easy to travel to and from, with 5 airports in the metropolitan area: Los Angeles International AirportLong Beach AirportBob Hope AirportJohn Wayne Airport, and LA/Ontario International Airport. The L.A. airport system served 79,981,524 travelers in 2010.

6. Chicago

Chicago’s central location in the center of the United States is why the 3rd largest city of the U.S. beats the 2nd largest one. Chicago O’Hare International Airport is a focus airport and hub for many airlines, including United/Continental and American Airlines. The other two airports in the Chicago area are Chicago Midway International Airport and Gary/Chicago International Airport, and all three combined served 84,302,427 passengers in 2010.

5. Paris

Paris is the most visited city in the world (by international tourists), so it seems accurate that it would be in the top 5 airport systems in the world. The famous Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport (also known as Roissy Airport) is the hub for Air France, meaning that its partners, Delta, Alitalia, and KLM, use it as an unofficial hub also. Paris-Orly Airport and Beauvais-Tillé Airport supplement CDG by handling more of the domestic flights, and combined, the Paris airport system handled 86,203,669 passengers in 2010.

4. Atlanta

Atlanta, Georgia has one major airport, Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport, but this single airport is the busiest airport in the world. In 2010, 89,331,622 travelers passed through this massive airport. Delta Airlines, which is the world’s second largest airline (and largest by fleet size), has its headquarters and primary hub at this airport.

3. Tokyo

Tokyo is the capital of Japan, and has the largest metropolitan area in the world. Tokyo International Airport (also known as Haneda Airport) and Narita International Airport serve this densely populated region, and together they saw 98,024,708 passengers pass through in 2010.

2. New York City

NYC is one of the most visited cities in the world, whether by tourists, foreign diplomats, business people, designers, etc., and that is why New York has six airports in the metro area. New York City’s airport system includes John F. Kennedy Int’l, LaGuardia Airport, Newark Liberty AirportWestchester County AirportLong Island MacArthur Airport, and Stewart International Airport. These airports combined as the New York City metro area’s airport system make NYC and the surrounding areas quite convenient as a traveler. In 2010, 107,586,717 passengers passed through these six airports combined. New York City’s airport system has the most air traffic movements in the world.

1. London

And #1 goes to London, with the busiest airspace in the world. Like New York City, London has six primary airports: London Heathrow Airport, Gatwick AirportLondon Stansted AirportLondon Luton AirportLondon City Airport, and London Southend Airport. It is the 3rd most visited place in the world, and one of the most important cities in the world in almost any sector you can think of, so it makes sense that the combined airport system saw a whopping 127,353,419 passengers and travelers pass through in 2010.