What Are The World’s Busiest Air Routes Right Now?

2020 has thrown the entire aviation industry into disarray, shaking up the busiest air routes in the world. While the busiest routes usually stay quite similar, with only small seasonal changes, this year has been very different. So what are the busiest routes in the world now?

Air China 787, Korean Air
Asian countries are leading the busiest routes owing to their early recovery. Photo: Tomás Del Coro via Wikimedia Commons

The old guard

Before jumping into the newest busiest air routes in the world, it might be helpful to know the old guard. According to data analysts OAG, these were the busiest air routes in 2019:

  1. Jeju – Seoul Gimpo (South Korea)
  2. Sapporo New Chitose – Tokyo Haneda (Japan)
  3. Fukuoka – Tokyo Haneda (Japan)
  4. Hanoi – Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam)
  5. Melbourne – Sydney (Australia)
  6. Delhi – Mumbai (India)
  7. Beijing Capital – Shanghai Hongqiao (China)
  8. Jeddah – Riyadh (Saudi Arabia)
  9. Hong Kong – Taipei (International)
  10. Tokyo Haneda – Okinawa (Japan)
ANA and JAL Domestic Reductions
Asian cities, particularly those in Japan, dominate the busiest routes in the world. Photo: Getty Images

As we can see domestic flights within the Asia Pacific dominate the list, with only one international route reaching the top 10 (also within the Asia Pacific). While the last has changed now, it is interesting to note the dominance of the Asian market in global seat availability.

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The new routes

The coronavirus pandemic has canceled tens of thousands of daily flights globally. International travel has been hit the hardest, with countries closing their borders to protect themselves.

According to FlightRadar24, flight traffic is down around 30% right now, reaching as low as almost 75% in April. This sudden drop in traffic has altered the list too. Here are the new busiest routes, as of May 2020, according to FlightRadar24 via Traveller Australia.

  1. Jeju – Seoul (South Korea)
  2. Shanghai – Shenzhen (China)
  3. Ho Chi Minh – Hanoi (Vietnam)
  4. Shenzhen – Chengdu (China)
  5. Guangzhou – Chengdu (China)
  6. Busan – Seoul (South Korea)
  7. Busan – Jeju (South Korea)
  8. Shenzhen – Chongqing (China)
  9. Shanghai – Guangzhou (China)
  10. Chongqing – Guangzhou (China)
China Eastern Airline
China’s swift recovery from the coronavirus has allowed its domestic flight capacity to rebound. Photo: byeangel via Flickr

China’s early plunge, and subsequent recovery, from the coronavirus has allowed it’s domestic market to rebound before other countries. The country now holds 6 of the 10 busiest routes in the world. However, the Seoul-Jeju pair remains on the top, primarily due to South Korea controlling the virus without a lockdown or closure of flights.

The country also added two more routes to the list. Vietnam’s success in controlling the virus allowed the Hanoi-Ho Chi Minh pair to briefly become the busiest sector in the world.

Meanwhile, the Delhi-Mumbai and Sydney-Melbourne routes have been knocked out due to flight restrictions and capacity cuts. Notably, flight reductions in Japan have meant the country no longer figures on the list.

Severe impact

While it may not seem like a drastic shift in the new list of busiest routes, there has been a dramatic reduction in capacity. Even the routes that are on the new list are operating at a much lower capacity. The Jeju-Seoul route, which usually has over 180 daily flights, is down to just half of that.

Commercial Flight Traffic 2020
Flight traffic remains low, even as the world emerges from restrictions. Photo: FlightRadar24

While Asia has still seen a relatively strong recovery, other regions continue to struggle. Passenger traffic in Europe and the United States remains low, even as border controls are eased after months. The list will not remain the same for long, however. As countries reopen, we could see new routes joining the list. Although, it is still to be seen if anyone can beat Jeju-Seoul, which even weathered the pandemic!