If you think that airports couldn’t possibly get more crowded, think again. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) expects 7.2 billion passengers to travel in 2035, a near doubling of the 3.8 billion passengers who travelled by air in 2016.
For a better perspective on the projected growth of global air travel, it is worth looking at how the world’s busiest airports are growing in terms of passenger numbers year-on-year, says Nicky Potgieter, Head of Leisure Marketing – Flight Centre Travel Group.
The world’s 20 busiest airports grew by 5.2% in 2017, according to the most recent statistics released by Airports Council International (ACI).
“This means that almost 1.5 billion passengers passed through these 20 airports’ terminals in 2017 alone, representing 17% of global passenger traffic,” says Potgieter. “Many of these busy airports are directly linked to South Africa and if you are travelling through them, it’s helpful to get to know how to navigate them without too many hassles.”
Potgieter offered this handy guide to some of the world’s busiest airports that South African passengers frequent:
1. Atlanta-Hartsfield-Jackson, USA
With almost 104 million passengers travelling to or from this airport in 2017, Atlanta-Hartsfield-Jackson Airport takes the spot of the busiest airport globally.
Also known as Atlanta Airport, Hartsfield, or Hartsfield–Jackson, the airport is conveniently located just 11 kilometres south of Atlanta’s central business district. What makes this airport such a top contender is that it is within a two-hour flight for 80% of the United States’ population.
If you are travelling to or from the world’s busiest airport, here’s what you need to know:
• Eat: Fried chicken, catfish, or sushi. The airport offers it all. For a taste of the south head over to Paschal’s (Concourse A food court and the Atrium), or alternatively, for Asian/Southern fusion have a sit-down at One Flew South (Terminal E).
• Special features: The airport art programme features 250 permanent works installed throughout the airport, including 20 sculptures from Zimbabwe, while kids will be entertained interactive website dedicated to kids and teens, complete with airport history and activities designed to keep them busy.
• Shopping: From makeup/skincare favourites like Kiehls and MAC to a designer Michael Kors outfit the airport has you covered. However, nothing says that you’ve been to Atlanta like merchandise with Atlanta, a big Peach or ATL written on it, which can be found at shops including ATL Market, Diverse and ATL Today.
2. Beijing Capital International Airport, China
Beijing Capital International Airport, or Beijing Airport, holds the second position when it comes to the busiest airports around the world, recording just over 95.8 million passengers in 2017.
As the main international airport serving Beijing, here are some top recommendations:
• Eat: Along with major international fast food brands, 360⁰ restaurant is renowned for its buffet breakfasts, while Ming Court offers exceptional traditional Chinese cuisine.
• Special features: The airport’s mini-spa offers small, semi-private rooms with two comfy chairs each. The 50-minute Tibetan Sweet Herb Alga Mud foot massage comes highly recommended.
• Shopping: Tea lovers should make their way to HuaXiangYuan Tea Shop, featuring a variety of boxed sets of teapots, cups, and samples of the different variations of tea in China.
3. Dubai International Airport, Dubai
While Dubai International airport may be the third-busiest airport globally, it is actually the busiest globally in terms of international passengers. In 2017, total passenger traffic at the airport grew 5.5% to 88.2 million passengers.
Now, if you are lucky enough to spend some time at Dubai International Airport, here’s what you can look forward to:
• Eat: Forget greasy burgers and cold fries, if you have a craving for it, one of the airport restaurants will serve it. Try out the pizza at Rosso Vivo, for healthy treats, quick smoothies, huge burgers or breakfast then Giraffe is the place to be. Other alternatives include the Kitchen By Wolfgang Puck, Pret a Manger and Butler’s Chocolate Café.
• Special features: For some R&R time make your way to the Zen gardens – an area that comprises a fish pond, lush trees and benches to sit on while listening to the sounds of water. Families can have a great time in the children’s area with play equipment, television screens featuring children’s programming and baby changing rooms. There’s also a climbing area and interactive games zone for kids who need to burn off excess energy before their flight. The airport also offers free Wi-Fi throughout.
• Shopping: Dubai International offers visitors the opportunity to buy just about anything under the sun. The tax-free Dubai Duty-Free shops offer a wide range of products, from local delicacies and souvenirs to global luxury brands. There are also separate sections for electronics, fashion and luxury products.
4. Tokyo International (Haneda) Airport, Japan
Ranking as the fourth-busiest airport globally is Tokyo Haneda International in Japan, recording almost 85 million travellers in 2017.
When at Haneda Airport, you will be amazed at the activities the airport has to offer – it even its own craft beer…
• Eat: ‘Edo Alley’: Head towards the international terminal’s fourth floor, where you’ll find Edo-koji. Along this food street are 21 Japan- and Edo-inspired restaurants, some open around the clock, serving everything from yakitori and oden to udon and green tea.
• Special features: Haneda has its very own craft beer, Haneda Sky Ale. The beer is only available on the airport premises, it is best sampled at the Sky Station (Terminal 1, sixth-floor observation deck). If beer is not your thing, rent a ‘Robohon’, or mini-robot-meets-tour guide dressed as a pilot that speaks Japanese, English and Mandarin. Your Robohon will not only give you tips on how to get around and where to go but also works as a smartphone, with a built-in phone, email and camera functions plus the ‘Robotenashi’ (nice) guide app.
• Shopping: Besides Edo Alley, you can get your Japanese culture fix on the international terminal’s fifth floor to find Tokyo Pop Town. Divided into a Hot Zone and Cool Zone, both stocked with anime, manga and character paraphernalia, and yes including all things Hello Kitty.
5.Los Angeles International Airport, USA
With 84,5 million passengers travelling to or through its doors in 2017, Los Angeles International Airport is ranked as the fifth-busiest airport globally. The airport’s ‘West Coast’ location makes it a gateway to international destinations, particularly Asia and the Pacific.
While Los Angeles as an international gateway lags behind its country counterparts in terms of what it offers passengers, the airport is gradually being updated. The Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT), was one of the first areas to be updated and has more amenities than any other terminal.
•Eat: Some of Los Angeles’ top chefs have restaurants at TBIT, including brands such as Chaya Brasserie, Border Grill, Petrossian Caviar & Champagne Bar, Ink Sack and Umami Burger.
•Special feature: Aviation enthusiasts should make their way to the Flight Path Learning Centre and Museum featuring models, photographs, uniforms and other artefacts highlighting the role of airlines, aircraft manufacturers, aerospace companies, and the airport in the history of Southern California.
•Shopping: At this airport it is about brands names. Think Victoria’s Secret, Rip Curl, Fred Segal and many more. However, for those of us on a budget, there are plenty of novelty gift shops and newsstands selling keepsakes from your trip.