America is the birthplace of aviation; the country’s wide air transport networks are a testament to this fact. The quality of infrastructure relative to other countries places the United States at the top of the global aviation market. For this reason, the country is home to some of the largest airports in the world.
The FAA estimates that about 14,400 airports, heliports, and seaplane bases in the country are used for private purposes only. And 5,000 of these facilities are available to the general public. They manage over two-thirds of global aviation traffic and more than half of all international air travel.
Data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics showed that American Airlines transported 853 million passengers in 2022. This was a 194 million increase from the 658 million recorded in 2021. In addition, passenger traffic reached a record high of 1.1 billion in 2019.
The average size of U.S. airports is typically far larger than those of other nations. In fact, U.S. airports dominate the list of the 10 largest airports in the world by land area. For example, the Denver International Airport in Colorado is second only to the King Fahd International Airport in Saudi Arabia.
Notably, American airports serve as entry points to large metropolitan areas rather than the entire nation. This is, perhaps, due to the multipolarity and size of the country. Nevertheless, we ranked the 15 largest American airports by land area.
#1 Denver International Airport, Colorado
Everyone knows the Mile High City is a gateway to the Rocky Mountains. But did you know it also hosts the country’s largest airport? With a land size of 33,531 acres and 135.7 kilometers square, Denver International Airport (DIA) is the second-largest airport in the world. It is second only to Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd International Airport. It’s on the western side of the Great Plains. It has a clear view of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains.
The DIA is a central travel hub of the Front Range Urban Corridor and the metropolitan area of Denver. It has six distinct runways, each separated from the others by around 4,200 feet for safety. The longest runway at the airport, 16R/34L, is 16,000 feet long, making it the longest in the country. Only six other runways in the world are longer.
It has non-stop service from 25 airlines to over 215 destinations in the Americas, Europe, and Asia. It’s a significant hub for United Airlines and Frontier Airlines and the primary operational base of Southwest Airlines.
Since 2000, Denver International Airport has consistently ranked in the top 20 busiest airports worldwide. It retained the third spot for passenger traffic in 2021 and 2022, recording 58.8 million and 69.3 million passengers, respectively.
The airport was opened for public use in February 1995 and has remained Colorado’s biggest employer, with over 35,000 workers. It replaced Stapleton International Airport, Denver’s main airport from 1929 to 1995 and the country’s sixth-busiest in the 1960s.
#2 Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Texas
A list of large airports without Texas? Not possible! America’s second-largest state by area and population surely has a spot on the list. Plus, you know, everything is big in Texas!
The 1973 Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) is situated between two of the largest cities in Texas. These are Dallas and Fort Worth. In addition, it covers parts of four other cities: Coppell, Euless, Grapevine, and Irving. It also spans parts of Dallas and Tarrant Counties.
Measuring 69.9 kilometers (27 mi²) and 17,207 acres, DFW is a little more than half of DIA’s land size. It ranks as the second-largest airport in the United States.
The airport serves the North Texas Region, including the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. By June 2022, 28 scheduled airlines were serving 260 destinations out of DFW Airport (193 domestic and 67 international). With this milestone, the airport joined a select global airport club that has exceeded 200 destinations.
American Airlines, headquartered in Fort Worth, operates the second-largest single airline hub in the world and the U.S. It only trails the hub of Delta Air Lines in Atlanta. Southern Airways Express, UPS Airlines, and Ameriflight are other airline hubs within DFW.
In 2021, the Airport Council International (ACI) rated DFW as the world’s third busiest by aircraft movements. In addition, it handled 62.5 million and 73.4 million passengers in 2021 and 2022, respectively. This ranked it the second busiest in the world by passenger traffic.
#3 Orlando International Airport, Florida
The 53.83km2 Orlando International Airport (MCO), with four runways, is the third-largest airport in America. The airport was formerly known as McCoy Air Force Base, which explains the abbreviation. The Force Base was a Strategic Air Command (SAC) post shut down in 1975 as part of a broader military wind-down at the end of the Vietnam War.
In 1976, the airport was classified as an international airport for civil use. Three years later, it was recognized as a large hub airport after serving five million passengers in 1978.
With more than 850 daily flights on 44 carriers, the airport is a prime international entry point into mid-Florida. The airport services 135 local and international destinations. JetBlue Airlines, Spirit Airlines, Avelo Airlines, and Southwest Airlines use MCO as an operating base. Orlando International Airport is the hub for Silver Airways; Delta Air Lines also used it as a hub until 2007. It’s also the focus city for Frontier Airlines.
The ACI ranked MCO the seventh-busiest airport in the world by 2021 passenger traffic. It serviced 40.4 million passengers in 2021. However, the airport fell off the top 10 chart in 2022 and was replaced by a relative newcomer, Istanbul Airport.
#4 Washington Dulles International Airport, Virginia
At 52.6km² and 13,000 acres, the Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) is only a bit smaller than the international airport in Orlando. This airport was named in honor of John Foster Dulles, a prominent U.S. Secretary of State in the Cold War.
The IAD was opened in November 1962, and Eero Saarinen designed its famous main terminal. Saarinen was also credited with the design of the TWA Flight Center at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
The airport is within Loudoun and Fairfax counties, 29 miles (47 kilometers) from Ronald Reagan National Airport in Arlington County, and 26 miles (42 kilometers) west of Downtown Washington, D.C.
It’s one of three significant airports serving the Washington-Baltimore metropolitan area, the others being Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) and Baltimore/Washington International Airport (BWI). It was the Washington-Baltimore metro area’s second-busiest airport as of 2021.
Dulles once used the airport code DIA. However, it was changed to IAD in 1968 because, when written by hand, it was easily misinterpreted as DCA, the code for Washington National Airport.
#5 George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Texas
Texas again? Yes, cue the Texas pride! Since its opening in June 1969, the George Bush Intercontinental Airport has recorded substantial growth. Now, it has scheduled flights to local and international destinations on five continents.
It has the most international destinations and passenger volume of any airport in the state. However, it ranks second only to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in overall airport traffic in Texas.
With five runaways and a land size of 40.46 km2 (10,000 acres), the IAH serves the Greater Houston metropolitan area. It’s about 23 miles (37 km) north of Downtown Houston between Interstate 45 and Interstate 69/U.S. Highway 59 and has easy access to the Hardy Toll Road expressway.
The Houston City Council debated renaming the airport in the late 1980s in memory of Mickey Leland, a U.S. congressman of African descent who died in an airplane crash in Ethiopia. Instead, the city decided to commemorate the congressman by naming the Mickey Leland International Arrivals Building, which subsequently became Mickey Leland Terminal D.
The airport was renamed George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Houston, in April 1997 by a unanimous resolution of the Houston City Council to honor George H. W. Bush, the 41st President of the United States. The new name became official on May 2, 1997.
The stylized version of the airport’s first name, Intercontinental Airport of Houston, formed the basis of the code IAH for the airport.
#6 Salt Lake City International Airport, Utah
The Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC) is the only joint civil-military airport on the list. The U.S. government has a lease on more than 0.5km2 of the airport’s 31km2 surface area for military use as the Roland R Wright Air National Guard Base.
Unlike other major US airports, SLC maintains a high ranking for timely departures, arrivals, and the fewest flight cancellations.
Situated approximately 4 miles (6.4 km) west of Downtown Salt Lake City in Utah, it’s a hub for Delta Air Lines, Alpine Air Express, and Corporate Air. Its airfield has three air carrier runways and a general aviation runway.
Many foreign carriers, including Air Canada, British Airways, Condor Airlines, Icelandair, Lufthansa, and Virgin Atlantic also fly to and from it. In addition, over 300 flights leave the airport every day for 90 non-stop destinations.
#7 O’Hare International Airport, Illinois
The Official Aviation Guide’s 2022 Megahub Connectivity Index rates O’Hare International Airport (ORD) as the most connected airport in the world. ORD is on Chicago’s Northwest Side, about 17 miles (27 km) northwest of the Loop. It spans 30.8 km2 and 7,627 acres.
Travelers can reach the airport via shuttle, bus, or cab via the Kennedy Expressway (Interstate 190), which runs straight into the airport. American Airlines and United Airlines have hubs in O’Hare, with the latter’s headquarters in the Willis Tower. Spirit Airlines also uses it as one of its focus cities.
As of November 2022, the airport offers non-stop service to 214 destinations across the Americas, Asia, Europe, Africa, the North Atlantic, the Caribbean, the Middle East, and Oceania.
According to the ACI, ORD was the world’s fourth-busiest airport by passenger traffic in 2021, handling 54 million people. It retained the number four spot in 2022 but with a 26.5% increase in passenger traffic.
When World War II began, O’Hare was built as an airfield for a Douglas factory that produced C-54 military transport. Midway through the 1940s, it was named Orchard Field Airport and earned the IATA code ORD.
The U.S. Navy’s first winner of the Medal of Honor during the war, pilot Edward “Butch” O’Hare, was honored with the renaming in 1949.
#8 San Francisco International Airport, California
The City by the Bay hosts the country’s eighth-largest airport by size. San Francisco International Airport (SFO), the largest in the San Francisco Bay Area, is a significant link to regions like Asia, Europe, Oceania, and the Middle East and serves destinations all around North America. It’s home to the first museum in an international airport, the SFO Museum, founded in 1980.
Occupying 21.05 km2 (5201 miles), SFO is 13 miles (21km) south of downtown San Francisco within an incorporated part of San Mateo County in California. SFO is the second-busiest airport in the state after Los Angeles International Airport.
It’s the main transpacific entry point of United Airlines and a major maintenance base. In addition, United uses Terminal 3 and the International Terminal as its operational bases, making it the airline’s fifth-largest hub. Alaska Airlines, which runs out of Terminal 2, also uses it as a hub.
#9 John F Kennedy International Airport, New York
In 2021, John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) was ranked the 13th busiest airport in the country. The 20.9 km2 (5164 acres) international airport mainly serves New York City, and it’s the busiest of the seven in the city’s aviation system.
Idlewild Airport, named after the Idlewild Beach Golf Course it replaced, was the original name of John F. Kennedy International Airport. The airport was constructed to ease pressure on LaGuardia Field, which experienced overcrowding after opening in 1939.
It had its official opening in July 1948 as New York International Airport. JFK received its current name as a mark of respect for the 35th U.S. President, John F. Kennedy after he was assassinated in 1963.
The famous airport is serviced by over 90 airlines, offering non-stop or direct flights to destinations across six continents. It’s 16 miles southeast of Midtown Manhattan in Queens’ Jamaica area. In addition, American Airlines and Delta Airlines have hubs at JFK, which also serves as the main operating hub for JetBlue.
JFK has four runways and six passenger terminals. It’s accessible by car, train, bus, or shuttle through the JFK Expressway or Interstate 678 (Van Wyck Expressway).
#10 Detroit Metropolitan Airport, Michigan
The Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW) is located in Romulus, Michigan and covers 19.6 km2 (4,850 acres). It’s the tenth largest in the country, the busiest in Michigan, and the main international gateway for Metro Detroit, Greater Toledo in Ohio, and Windsor, Canada.
There are two terminals, 129 operational gates, and six runways at the airport. Delta Air Lines has a hub there, as it’s the Eastern United States’ primary entry point for Delta’s flights to Asia. Spirit Airlines also has a base there. In addition, DTW offers service to 30 overseas locations and 39 different U.S. states.
Summary Of The 10 Largest Airports In The United States
|Rank||Airport||Size by Land Area|
|1||Denver International Airport, Colorado||33,531 acres|
|2||Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Texas||17,207 acres|
|3||Orlando International Airport, Florida||12,600 acres|
|4||Washington Dulles International Airport, Virginia||13,000 acres|
|5||George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Texas||10,000 acres|
|6||Salt Lake City International Airport, Utah||8,044 acres|
|7||O’Hare International Airport, Illinois||7,627 acres|
|8||San Francisco International Airport, California||5201 acres|
|9||John F Kennedy International Airport, New York||5,164 acres|
|10||Detroit Metropolitan Airport, Michigan||4,850 acres|
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