LaGuardia Out, Chicago Midway In: America’s Busiest Airports List

The third quarter of the year (July-September) is normally the most important for airlines based in the northern hemisphere as it coincides with the peak of the summer. Airlines benefit from higher demand and fares, providing an important war chest for going into the winter. Looking at the USA’s top-25 airports, we see that Q3 capacity is down by 17%, a loss of 54 million seats. LaGuardia has fallen out of the list while Chicago Midway is in.

American 737 MAX
New York LaGuardia has slipped out of the USA’s top-25 airport list this quarter. Still, Atlanta, Chicago O’Hare, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Dallas Fort Worth, Miami, Charlotte, Denver, Washington National, and Detroit are the most-served routes from the airport. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

Top-25 airports: down by 54 million seats

The USA’s top-25 airports have 246.8 million round-trip seats in Q3 2021, based on schedule information submitted by airlines serving them to aviation data experts OAG. This is down by 18% from 301.1 million in Q3 2019. Of course, the decline is especially attributable to the international market, reduced as it is by 40%.

JetBlue A321neo
While San Francisco remains badly affected, JetBlue has 35% more capacity this quarter than in 2019. This is from its route map doubling from four to eight routes with the addition of Cancun, Hartford, Newark, and Orlando. And Los Angeles replaced Long Beach. This growth, and cuts by other airlines, means that JetBlue has jumped two places to become San Francisco’s fifth-largest airline. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

All change: which airports are up and down?

While four airports – Salt Lake City, Denver, Phoenix, Miami – now have more seats than they did before the pandemic, San Francisco remains very badly hit. Meanwhile, New York La Guardia – which was 20th – has fallen out of the top-25 table because of its strong focus on business travel, with Chicago Midway replacing it (down by just 9.7%).

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  • Salt Lake City: +6.9% change in seats in Q3 2021 versus Q3 2019
  • Denver: +1.6%
  • Phoenix: +0.9%
  • Miami: +0.3%
  • Orlando: -2.9%
  • Houston Intercontinental: -3.8%
  • Dallas Fort Worth: -4.1%
  • Fort Lauderdale: -4.8%
  • Charlotte: -6.2%
  • Las Vegas: -6.6%
  • Seattle: -14.1%
  • Atlanta: -16.3%
  • Chicago O’Hare: -18.8%
  • Baltimore: -20.8%
  • Washington Dulles: -21.3%
  • Newark: -22.8%
  • Minneapolis: -24.5%
  • Detroit: -24.8%
  • San Diego: -25.9%
  • Los Angeles: -28.8%
  • Philadelphia: -29.3%
  • New York JFK: -32.7%
  • Boston: -34.9%
  • New York La Guardia: -45.6%
  • San Francisco: -46.6%
Delta SLC
Multiple airlines have grown at Salt Lake City, including Delta (the Utah airport’s hub carrier), Alaska, American, Frontier, and Southwest. Southwest has added 12% more seats, cementing its number-two position, with Austin, Nashville, Orange County, Orlando, and Tampa all introduced since Q3 2019. Photo: Aero Icarus via Wikimedia.

New York La Guardia is out – for now

It should not come as a huge surprise that LaGuardia has been (temporarily) pushed out of the top-25 US airports list. It hasn’t gone far, though: it is now 28th, OAG data confirms, behind Nashville and Tampa and ahead of Honolulu and Austin.

Delta, which remains very much LaGuardia’s number-one airline, has cut over four in ten seats this quarter (-43%), with other significant domestic reductions by United (-54%), American (-50%), and Southwest (-46%).

WestJet B737-600
WestJet isn’t serving LaGuardia this quarter, meaning the New York airport currently has eight passenger airlines. However, the Canadian airline expects to resume service from October, when the B737-600 will once again play an important role. Photo: Johnnyw3 via Wikimedia.

Ultra-low-cost carriers fared less badly

As usual, though, ultra-low-cost carriers are swimming into the tide. Frontier is up marginally (+0.4%), although it remains firmly LaGuardia’s smallest airline by capacity with its network of three destinations (Atlanta, Miami, and Orlando).

Spirit at LaGuardia
Spirit’s LaGuardia network this July-September comprises Dallas Fort Worth, Detroit, Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles, Myrtle Beach, Nashville, Orlando, and San Juan. Photo: Spirit.

Meanwhile, while Spirit is down by ‘only’ 6%, although funnily enough, its network jumped from five to eight destinations. Spirit’s new La Guardia-Los Angeles route was among 310 US routes to begin in 52 days.

Where are you flying this year? Let us know in the comments.