Is Busier Better? The Annual Airport Rankings are in

Graphic of an empty modern styled room, with a red cordon portioning off a desk.

After a four-year streak, Atlanta’s Hartfield-Jackson airport is no longer the busiest airport in America. O’Hare International Airport in Chicago now tops the list, according to FAA data cited by the Associated Press.

Chicago recorded more than 903,000 departures and arrivals in 2018.  Atlanta recorded more than 895,000 departures and arrivals during the same period.

Los Angeles claimed third place. Dallas-Fort Worth took fourth. Denver International rounded out the top five.

While the number game is great for bragging rights for potential businesses and airport press releases, the annual rankings had me thinking about some of the airports in cities where I’ve lived.

Let’s start with fifth-place Denver, my last stop before New York.  

Denver is massive, twice the size of Manhattan.  Yet despite its sweeping size, it’s an easy airport to navigate.  Everything is compartmentalized.  Check-in, luggage claim, the gates are all on distinct levels.   The towering tents on top represent the mountains. They are a visual indicator this airport has a significant set-up.

The next few months will be interesting as the airport modernizes to include more shopping and dining options before passengers even reach the gates —   a reflection that retail knows no boundaries.  What better time to spend then when you’re on vacation and a bit off guard when it comes to your budget.

Nashville International Airport gets a lot of favorable comments from my friends.  They love the fact there is live music playing as soon as you get off the plane.  The patterns on the carpet are almost kaleidoscope like and a source of conversation itself.  There is an Instagram account making fun of the schemes.  It was also the topic of a Travel and Leisure article. 

Carpet aside, this airport reflects the growth of the region. British Airways recently began nonstop service from Nashville to London.  Locals know the city is growing.  A single route at the airport reflects that.

McGhee-Tyson Airport in Knoxville is emblematic of the small-town charm of the city in the Smoky Mountains.  The rows of rocking chairs keep it quaint.  It also is representative of the benefits of living in a smaller city.  There are only 12 gates listed on the map —- a far cry from the looping lines at some of the major airports.

Finally, my hometown of Detroit.  DTW, as it’s coded, has two terminals.  My favorite is the McNamara terminal, home to Delta Airlines.  It is grand in size.  It feels big and it is big: one long concourse.  I often arrive early just to walk up and down the corridors.  It’s a gateway to Asia.  I’m still in awe of the fact there are planes heading to Tokyo, Seoul, Shanghai and Beijing lined up next to each other.

As far as New York’s airports, I don’t despise them as much as the locals seem to.  Some of the terminals at LaGuardia are inching toward sophistication with big windows and open spaces. The food options at Newark are stellar, I’ve enjoyed a turkey burger and a bagel and lox waiting for flights – it was solid airport grub.