World’s Busiest International Flight Routes Revealed

Travel data provider OAG recently published its ‘Busiest Routes 2020’ report, an investigation into the world’s busiest, most competitive, longest and shortest airline routes. The report drew upon data for the calendar year 2019. This 12 month period represented the last full year of pre-coronavirus ‘normality’ for airlines, but which international routes saw the highest volume of scheduled seats?

Singapore-Airlines-fleet-review
Three of the world’s ten busiest international air routes connect Singapore to other airports in Asia. Photo: Getty Images

The Top 10 – All but one within Asia

The world’s busiest international flight routes display a strong geographical trend, with nine of the top ten being within Asia. This represents a similar trend to last year’s data, although the remaining non-Asian route, as we shall see, differs.

1) Hong Kong (HKG) – Taipei (TPE), 7,965,538 seats

At just under 8 million seats flown in 2019, Hong Kong-Taipei represents the world’s busiest international flight route by a considerable margin. This equates to a daily average of just below 22,000, on a route served by both Cathay Dragon and its parent airline Cathay Pacific, along with China Airlines, EVA Air, and Hong Kong Airlines.

Cathay Pacific, Crew, US Bases
Cathay Pacific is one of five airlines that operate the world’s busiest international flight route between Hong Kong and Taipei. Photo: Getty Images

2) Kuala Lumpur (KUL) – Singapore (SIN), 5,560,894 seats

This hour-long hop along the Malay Peninsula sees almost 2.5 million seats fewer than Hong Kong-Taipei. Nonetheless, at just over 5.5 million annually, it still sees over 15,000 per day. These are spread largely among airlines from the Asian Pacific region, such as low-cost carriers AirAsia and Scoot, as well as the respective countries’ flag carriers, Malaysia Airlines and Singapore Airlines. However, this route is also home to one of Ethiopian’s ‘Fifth Freedom’ flights, meaning that the corridor is not completely dominated by Asian carriers.

Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner Addis Ababa Bole International Airport Ethiopia
Ethiopian Airlines are a ‘Fifth Freedom’ operator on the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore route. Photo: Getty Images

3) Jakarta (CGK) – Singapore (SIN), 5,480,000 seats

Just below 81,000 seats behind the second-placed route is the two-hour hop from Jakarta Soekarno–Hatta to Singapore Changi. This is served by ‘Fifth Freedom’ flights operated by Ethiopian and KLM. Local carriers on this route include Garuda, JetStar Asia and Singapore Airlines.

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Garuda Indonesia, the country’s flag carrier, is based at Jakarta Soekarno-Hatta. Photo: Getty Images

4) Bangkok (BKK) – Hong Kong (HKG), 4,826,872 seats

This three-hour jaunt sees a daily average of over 13,000 seats, with flights operated by such carriers as Egyptair, Emirates, Ethiopian and Thai.

5) Hong Kong (HKG) – Shanghai (PVG), 4,463,658 seats

This route skirts China’s east coast for just under three hours, and averages over 12,000 seats per day. Carriers serving this corridor include China Eastern, Hong Kong Airlines and Shanghai Airlines.

The Best of the Rest – Positions 6-10

While the remaining routes are also predominantly Asian, there is one outlier, namely New York JFK-London Heathrow. Here, 3,833,701 seats are divided among American, British Airways, Delta and Virgin Atlantic. This represents a change compared to the previous report, whose only non-Asian route in the top ten was New York LaGuardia-Toronto. The full rundown is as follows:

6) Hong Kong-Seoul Incheon, 3,942,875 seats

7) Hong Kong-Manila, 3,852,991 seats

8) New York JFK-London Heathrow, 3,833,701 seats

9) Bangkok Suvarnabhumi-Singapore Changi, 3,832,494 seats

10) Jakarta-Kuala Lumpur, 3,798,559 seats

Virgin Atlantic, Summer 2021, Schedule
Virgin Atlantic is one of four operators on the New York JFK-London Heathrow route. Photo: Getty Images

The current pandemic will have a considerable effect on the data for the next report, but the trend towards busy routes in Asia has, thus far, been undeniably consistent. I would expect this to continue despite the present situation.

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