Multiple Airports For One City – What Are The Benefits?

Many major cities around the world have two or more airports. Ranging from Asia to North America, travelers can sometimes face a complicated choice of which airport to travel through when visiting a new city. While it can be confusing for some, there are a few benefits of multiple airports serving the same city.

Heathrow runway queue
Multiple cities, including London, have multiple airports serving them. Photo: Getty Images

Many cities have multiple airports. A short list of them includes:

  • London
  • Paris
  • New York
  • Chicago
  • Washington D.C.
  • Houston
  • Tokyo
  • Shanghai
  • Beijing
  • Istanbul
  • Moscow

Dividing traffic

Take, for example, Washington D.C., which is served by two local airports. While Washington-Dulles (IAD) is about 25 miles from the National Mall, it is considered a DC-area airport. The other airport, just across the river from the National Mall, is Washington-National (DCA). From a distance to the city center standpoint, National beats out IAD. However, there is a reason the city has both National and Dulles.

Washington-National suffers from having no room to grow. With a city constraining it on one side, and a river on the other, the airport’s runways cannot be lengthened, nor can it get a massive new terminal to handle new flights. Instead, the airport serves as a mostly domestic airport, serving points within a 1,250-mile distance of the airport.

American Reagan National
Reagan-National handles mostly short-haul domestic passengers. Photo: Getty Images

Dulles, meanwhile, is where all the major international carriers fly into. Airlines like EgyptAir, KLM, British Airways, Emirates, Virgin Atlantic, and many others serve Washington D.C. through Dulles.

In this way, Washington D.C. can divide up traffic between international and domestic passengers, as international arrivals can be handled at the larger Dulles. Domestic flights will arrive and depart from National. While Dulles does handle domestic flights, those flights mainly provide some feed to United’s international hub from the airport, as well as other airlines.

This also helps divide traffic based on where passengers are coming or going to in certain parts of the city. For example, if someone heading to the New York-area needs to end up in or near the New Jersey side of the city, it could be easier to just fly into Newark-Liberty (EWR). Meanwhile, those heading to or from Queens could easily fly into either LaGuardia (LGA) or John F. Kennedy International (JFK).

Virgin Atlantic
For example, Virgin Atlantic flies into JFK, but not LaGuardia, since JFK handles international long-haul arrivals. Photo: Vincenzo Pace |

Easing congestion

As you can imagine, airports for major and growing cities can easily become congested. Upgrading airports is no easy task, and without a lot of land around it, major airports can easily become congested. If every passenger heading to London were to land at Heathrow, the airport would easily become overwhelmed.

To avoid such a situation, cities carefully manage their airports. While dividing traffic is an easy way to relieve some congestion at major airports, in other instances, this is not the case. For example, in Shanghai, the city has seen such an explosion in travel demand over the last few years. The city is looking at building a third airport to relieve the mainly regional Shanghai-Hongqiao (SHA) and the long-haul international Shanghai-Pudong (PVG).

Air China planes parked in Beijing
Large airports can become congested easily. Photo: Getty Images

Navigating a smaller airport can be much easier for most travelers. For example, Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) can be a confusing and congested airport to fly into, with thousands of arriving passengers searching for taxis, rideshares, or their own rides. However, some may choose to fly into a secondary airport, like Long Beach or Ontario, to make it easier to navigate on the ground.

Multiple airports allow for competition

Giving a sole major airline a monopoly on routes out of a major airport is not ideal for passengers or businesses. This is why secondary airports can become very important in a major city. One such example is Houston. While United Airlines has a near-monopoly on routes out of the larger Bush Intercontinental (IAH), Southwest Airlines has a massive presence at the smaller Houston-Hobby (HOU). While the latter airport generally serves domestic passengers, it is important to note that the presence of two airports gives Houston-area passengers some choices.

Allegiant Air A320
For example, in the United States, Allegiant Air offers low fares by flying into mostly secondary airports. Photo: Getty Images

In other cases, larger airports are just too expensive for some carriers to fly into. Many low-cost and ultra-low-cost carriers will routinely choose to launch flights to or from secondary airports in a city. In Europe, Ryanair is a prime example of this. The airline does not operate out of many large international airports in Europe (such as Heathrow, Paris-CDG, Frankfurt Am Main, etc.), but rather goes to smaller or less expensive secondary airports in the same city. This allows the carrier to offer low fares and stay true to its model.

Multiple airports are good for passengers

Multiple airports can do a lot of good for passengers. First and foremost, having multiple airports means more room for airlines to operate more flights. This means more nonstop, more competition, and more options to find a lower fare to fly wherever you need to fly.

More passengers landing in a city is good for airlines and the local economy. Photo: Getty Images

In addition, it also makes it easier to decide where you need to fly if you need to visit a certain part of a city. While it might not make a big difference for leisure travelers, for a business traveler who is doing a quick turn or needs to get to a meeting at a specific time, flying into an airport closer to the specific place they need to be can be a big convenience.

Take a scenario from earlier in this article. If every passenger heading to London were to land at Heathrow, there would be far fewer people who would be able to come to London. Even operating every flight with an Airbus A380, which is, first of all, not economical, it still would not provide the benefits that having multiple airports, such as City (LCY) and Gatwick (LGW), provide. It also would be one expensive place to fly in or out of, even without the air passenger duty included.

Are you a fan of cities with multiple airports? Let us know in the comments!