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Ranking: London Heathrow Reigns Supreme as Europe’s Busiest Airport

More than four million passengers passed through London Heathrow Airport in March 2023, beating Istanbul by around a third of a million

by Fergus Cole

April 12, 2023

Photo: London Heathrow. Courtesy of John Cameron / Unsplash

As travel restrictions continue to ease and the world slowly emerges from the pandemic, the aviation industry is seeing a surge in passenger numbers. The latest rankings of Europe’s busiest airports have just been released, showcasing the movers and shakers of the travel world. Topping the charts is none other than London Heathrow Airport (LHR), setting the pace for others to follow.

According to global travel data firm OAG Aviation, more than four million passengers traveled on domestic and international flights in and out of Heathrow in March 2023, meaning it was once again the busiest airport in Europe after falling to the second spot in November last year.

Photo: London Heathrow, Terminal 5C (satellite 2). Courtesy of David Dyson

Back then, widespread industrial action and subsequent passenger caps imposed by the airport meant that passenger numbers were subdued. However, the caps have since been lifted, and last month it welcomed over 350,000 more passengers than the continent’s second busiest, Istanbul Airport (IST).

Despite filling almost 24% more seats during the pandemic, Heathrow has yet to recover fully. Nevertheless, in 2022, it was ranked as the world’s second-busiest airport, with approximately 61.6 million passengers. The airport’s five terminals serve around 185 destinations worldwide, with approximately 80 airlines operating flights.

Istanbul Airport—the busiest in Europe in 2022 with around 64 million passengers—dropped to the second spot in March with over 3.6 million seats. The major European hub and home to Turkish Airlines was only built in 2019, replacing Atatürk Airport (ISL) as the city’s primary airport.

Photo: Istanbul Airport. Courtesy of Artem Bryzgalov / Unsplash

However, barring a short period in 2020 when IST was temporarily closed due to the pandemic, the new airport has quickly established itself as one of the world’s busiest. It has also recovered relatively well from the pandemic compared to other airports, with its current passenger numbers just 6.2% lower than in 2019.

The third busiest European airport last month was Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) – the only other airport logging more than three million passengers. CDG is one of the biggest airports in Europe in terms of its facilities. The airport is also being renovated and has the potential to grow beyond its three terminals, seven sub-terminals, four runways, and twenty square miles of land.

The other airports to make the top ten were Madrid Adolfo-Suarez Barajas (MAD), Frankfurt (FRA), Amsterdam Schiphol (AMS), Josep Tarradellas Barcelona-El Prat (BCN), Munich International (MUN), and the two airports in London and Istanbul – London Gatwick (LGW) and Sabiha Gökçen International (SAW).

These were the ten busiest airports in Europe last month, according to OAG:

Ranking Airport Total number of seats (March 2023)
1 London Heathrow (LHR) 4,031,394
2 Istanbul (IST) 3,682,380
3 Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) 3,081,905
4 Madrid Adolfo Suarez-Barajas (MAD) 2,818,514
5 Frankfurt International (FRA) 2,777,697
6 Amsterdam Schiphol (AMS) 2,760,736
7 Josep Tarradellas Barcelona-El Prat (BCN) 2,166,167
8 Munich International (MUN) 1,785,695
9 London Gatwick (LGW) 1,769,125
10 Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen International (SAW) 1,739,070

On a global level, European airports have fewer total passenger numbers than U.S. ones. This is supported by the recently released list of the world’s busiest airports in 2022 by ACI World, where American airports make up half of the top ten.

The top three European airports to make the list were London Heathrow, Istanbul, and Paris Charles de Gaulle, leaving the rest of Europe out of the top ten.

Delta Sky Club, Atlanta / Photo: Delta Air Lines News Hub

According to ACI World, the busiest airport in the world last year was Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), with more than 93 million passengers. Therefore, it is evident that U.S. airports dominate the world’s busiest airports list, while Europe is struggling to keep up with its American counterparts.