How Atlanta Became The World’s Busiest Airport

In September 2019, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport was declared the busiest airport in the world. Not really a surprise; it was, after all, the 21st year in a row that the airport took the top spot. Over 110 million passengers passed through the airport last year, that’s ten million more than Beijing Capital Airport in second place. As the saying goes, all roads lead to Rome, but why do all flights lead to Atlanta?

Atlanta airport
Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson has won the title of the world’s busiest airport 21 times. Photo: Atlanta Airport

With five runways, 193 gates, 30,000 car parking spaces, and the tallest control tower in North America, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson is an incredible airport. But it didn’t earn the title of the world’s busiest just because of its runways and car parks. Atlanta airport is a well-oiled machine since it began in 1925.


When it comes to an airport, location is everything. And Atlanta has it all. According to the airport’s website, 80% of the entire US population lives within a two hour flight of Atlanta airport. It’s also just ten miles from downtown Atlanta, so it’s easy to reach. Not only is the airport accessible for many people, but there also isn’t much in the way of competition. Unlike some of the big cities such as New York, Los Angeles or Chicago, there isn’t another major airport near Atlanta for at least 150 miles.

Hartsfield-Jackson really is a gateway to the rest of the world. It serves over 155 domestic and 75 international destinations on non-stop flights. Being so close to so many American’s and offering so many destinations, its no wonder the airport serves an average of 275,000 passengers a day.

View of the tower at twilight on the airfield
Delta’s control tower is the tallest in North America and the fourth tallest in the world. Photo: Hartsfield Jackson International Airport


When you’ve got that many passengers passing through the halls all day, every day, keeping a good schedule is very important. Atlanta has been able to grow to be the busiest airport in the world because it is also one of the most efficient. More than 63,000 people work at the airport to keep it running to time.

Investments in shuttle services between terminals, the Sky Train, bus services, and parking facilities help the airport run smoothly. In fact, Atlanta has been crowned the most efficient airport in the world a total of 15 times, according to the Air Transport Research Society. Combine the airport’s dedication to efficiency with the warm, sunny weather, and it’s easy to see why Atlanta doesn’t often have to deal with delayed flights.


One of the keys to Atlanta’s success is the fact that it is the central hub for Delta Air Lines. Delta carries over 200 million passengers per year, and as Atlanta is one of its hubs, it’s no surprise that the airport is a busy one. Over 75% of passengers traveling from Atlanta are on Delta flights. Delta’s investment in the airport helps keep things moving. The airline has recently introduced facial recognition at the airport, which speeds up check-in time.

Delta hub Atlanta
Delta is a large part of Atlanta’s success. Photo: Delta Air Lines

Competition for Hartsfield-Jackson

Atlanta may be the gateway to the world, but the city known as the gateway between the west and the east is looking to take Atlanta’s title. Istanbul is hoping its new airport will accommodate 200 million passengers per year; that’s double what Atlanta can take. The new Istanbul Grand Airport will eventually have six runways, 16 taxiways, and served 16 million passengers in its first 90 days.

Istanbul’s new airport aims to knock Atlanta off the top spot.  Photo: Istanbul Airport

Perhaps Atlanta may lose its crown to Istanbul’s new mega-airport. But if Istanbul if looking for the top spot, it will also need to rival Atlanta when it comes to efficiency, speed and, connectivity. Otherwise, all the new facilities will go to waste. But Atlanta is also looking to invest. It’s planning to improve its taxiways to prevent planes from having to slow down and cross other runways.

Have you traveled through Hartsfield-Jackson airport? How did you find the experience? Do you think Istanbul’s new airport can take the top spot? Let us know what you think in the comment section.