When I was a kid I knew that “whether you’re going to heaven or hell, you’ll have to connect in Atlanta.”
It wasn’t until 1971 though that the airport got its first international flights (Mexico and Jamaica on Eastern Airlines). The first non-US airline to fly to Atlanta was Sabena in 1978.
Eastern Air Lines L-188 Electra N5512 by Piergiuliano Chesi. CC BY-SA 3.0
It’s the ideally-located major city for connections throughout the Southeast. United basically cedes this entire region. American didn’t serve it well from Miami. The closest competitor was US Airways, now part of American, in Charlotte.
Delta dominates Atlanta, of course, though they were briefly challenged by Airtran. Southwest, as acquirer, hasn’t become the silver bullet there some might have expected.
As the busiest airport in the world by passenger count, it surprisingly doesn’t get there through massive widebody jets full of passengers. It’s largely a domestic airport, though there certainly is an international route network. Most flights out of the airport are on narrow bodies.
But it’s precisely the large number of narrowbodies – mostly full these days — that allow it to carry the most passengers (over 100 million in 2015 and presumably 2016 as well) while not offering the most seats. In fact, in terms of airline capacity it’s not even in second place.
Here are the 5 busiest airports in the world by departing seats in the 4th quarter of 2016, using data from Diio Mio (HT: Airline Weekly)
- Dubai: 14,985,566
- Beijing: 14,828,212
- Atlanta: 14,409,522
- Tokyo Haneda: 13,977,828
- London Heathrow: 11,884,248
Dubai International Airport
Dubai doesn’t have nearly as many flights as Atlanta, but a substantial proportion of its flights are operated by widebodies. There’s a short haul route network serving the Mideast, and indeed flydubai operates only Boeing 737s. But Emirates is the largest operator of Airbus A380s, and the backbone of their fleet is Boeing 777s. There are no domestic commercial flights.
Emirates Airbus A380
Los Angeles comes in sixth, just a hair behind Heathrow, and of course there’s plenty of narrowbody activity and indeed regional jets as well there. Chicago clocks in at 8th and Dallas at 14th. New York JFK and Denver are nearly tied at 22nd and 23rd respectively.