Which Routes Are Currently The World’s Busiest?

Having been impacted worldwide by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, commercial aviation looks very different to this time last year. The same can be said for trends concerning the industry’s busiest routes. Travel data provider OAG has crunched the numbers to determine which corridors are presently the busiest.

Korean Air, Eastar Jet, Jin Air
South Korea is home to three of January’s 10 busiest routes, including the top spot. Photo: Getty Images

OAG’s definition of a ‘busy’ route

One might think that the busiest routes are those that see the most flights operated in a given amount of time. While this will often prove to be the case, it does not account for differences in aircraft capacity. As such, OAG ranks its routes in terms of the number of seats available on scheduled commercial flights on a particular route. In other words, the route’s total capacity.

At Simple Flying, we explored a lot of OAG’s data concerning such trends towards the end of last year. Examples of this work can be found at the following links:

Which Routes Are Currently The World’s Busiest?
OAG’s data has previously found Madrid-Barcelona to be Europe’s busiest route. Photo: Getty Images

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A relatively strong Asian domestic market

OAG’s findings show that nine of the ten busiest domestic routes at present can be found in the Asia-Pacific market. The remaining example is in the Middle East, specifically Jeddah-Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, which places 9th. There is minimal difference between the top two, both of which have over one million scheduled seats this month, and far outrank the 3rd-10th place routes.

Coming in first is the South Korean hop between Jeju International and Seoul Gimpo. Historically, this has often been the world’s busiest airline route, even before the present pandemic. This January, there are 1,069,677 scheduled seats available between the two cities.

The other corridor to break the one million mark is the intra-Vietnam between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. With 1,020,790 scheduled seats this month, it is less than 45,000 behind Jeju-Seoul in first place.

Asiana Korean Airlines
Jeju-Seoul remains the world’s busiest airline route, even under the present challenging circumstances. Photo: Getty Images

The full rundown of the top 10 busiest domestic routes for January 2021 is as follows:

  1. Jeju – Seoul Gimpo (South Korea), 1,069,677 scheduled seats
  2. Hanoi – Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam), 1,020,790 scheduled seats
  3. Sapporo New Chitose – Tokyo Haneda (Japan), 716,292 scheduled seats
  4. Beijing – Shanghai Hongqiao (China), 695,156 scheduled seats
  5. Fukuoka – Tokyo Haneda (Japan), 670,234 scheduled seats
  6. Guangzhou – Shanghai Hongqiao (China), 643,431 scheduled seats
  7. Shanghai Hongqiao – Shenzhen (China), 630,500 scheduled seats
  8. Jakarta – Denpasar-Bali (Indonesia), 566,375 scheduled seats
  9. Jeddah – Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), 548,226 scheduled seats
  10. Tokyo Haneda – Osaka Itami (Japan), 520,689 scheduled seats

International capacity remains lower

Capacity on international routes is notably lower than their domestic counterparts. In fact, not one cross-border corridor has been able to reach the 200,000-seat mark for this month. Indeed, only five routes have a capacity of more than 125,000 scheduled seats this January. They are:

  1. Dubai – London Heathrow, 190,365 scheduled seats
  2. Cairo – Jeddah, 154,337 scheduled seats
  3. Orlando – San Juan, 151,916 scheduled seats
  4. Paris Orly – Pointe-à-Pitre, 138,475 scheduled seats
  5. Seoul Incheon – Tokyo Narita, 127,170 scheduled seats
British Airways Club Europe Empty Row
In the current climate, airlines are struggling to fill the limited number of seats that they do schedule. Photo: Jake Hardiman – Simple Flying

These lower figures are perhaps not surprising. After all, IATA revealed yesterday that international capacity is down on previous years by a factor of 58.6%. With the virus’s ‘second wave’ having caused the previous gradual recovery to stall, it may prove to be the case that we have to expect such figures to remain lower for the foreseeable future.