Top Ten Busiest Air Routes

Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of the world’s busiest air routes are in Asia. The typical guesses such as Chicago and New York, Los Angeles and New York, New York and London and London and Paris aren’t even in the top ten. A recent study conducted found that the top 300 busiest air routes in the world attract upward of nearly 20% of the world’s air travel. With more higher capacity planes and increased cruising fuel efficiency of modern jetliners, many carriers are consolidating their most popular routes into fewer flights on bigger planes.

One possible reason for the lack of North American routes on this list is the United States has more airports than any other country in the world. For example, New York has three major airports all within a 20 miles radius; JFK International Airport, Newark International Airport, and Laguardia International Airport. If these three combined into a single airport, it would be the busiest in the world. In general, this results in air traffic being more evenly distributed across many airports rather than being concentrated at a very few. In fact, the busiest route in the United States is between Los Angeles and San Francisco and only ranks 18th in the world. In Asia, land is a precious commodity, which as a result means less room for more airports. Here are the top ten busiest air travel routes:


Johannesburg and Cape Town

2012 Passengers: 4.41 million

This popular route in South Africa is the busiest on the continent. This connection serves an important role connecting the largest city in the country, Johannesburg, with the coastal city of Cape Town. The country’s economic center of Johannesburg is responsible for much of the wealth of the country, but being the largest city in the world not located on a cost, river, or lake, makes the transportation of goods difficult. A significant proportion of business is conducted in Cape Town which is home to the country’s busiest harbor. Additionally, Cape Town manages to attract millions of tourists on a yearly basis to visit the pristine waters of the South Atlantic.


Tokyo and Okinawa

2012 Passengers: 4.58 million

Okinawa is considered to be one of the prime vacation places for the people of Japan. It then makes sense that the connection between it and the country’s largest city and one of the largest cities in the world would be also one of the busiest air routes. Throughout the year, millions of Japanese make their way to the country’s southernmost prefecture. The area is comprised of an island chain more than 600 miles long and extends nearly to Taiwan. Nearly 19% of the land in the prefecture is designated as Natural parks.


Hong Kong and Taipei

2012 Passengers: 5.51 million

With a combined total population of nearly 10,000,000 people between the two cities, it is no wonder why it ranks as one of the world’s busiest air travel routes. Both Hong Kong and Taipei have a thriving economy which contributes to the current economic surge in the region. Many of the world’s largest corporations have some sort of presence in one of these two cities. This route is dominated by busy business travelers who are conducting business in one of these two thriving metropolises.


Tokyo and Fukuoka

2012 Passengers: 6.64 million

Located on the northern coast of the island of Kyushu in Japan, Fukuoka, is one of the country’s most industrialized areas and currently ranks as the country’s sixth most populated. It is also home to one of Japan’s top professional baseball teams, the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks. Between the location on the coast and the growing industrial presence in the area, it attracts many travelers from the country’s capital every year. In fact, it is one of the country’s fastest growing cities. It recently overtook Kyoto in population.


Tokyo and Osaka

2012 Passengers: 6.74 million

Tokyo has already appeared on this list twice before and this isn’t the last. Osaka is one of Japan’s most crucial financial centers and second largest metropolitan areas, and  a result is where a good proportion of the country’s international business takes place. Due to its the roughly 18,000,000 people living in Osaka it is no surprise that Tokyo shares an important connection.



Beijing and Shanghai

2012 Passengers: 7.25 million

Added together the population of Beijing and Shanghai is equal to nearly 50,000,000 people. These two cities alone have a larger population than any state in the United States. Both Shanghai and Beijing are critical to China’s economy and are growing at a record pace. The Beijing and Shanghai route is expected to be the busiest air route in the world within the next decade. Everys single day there are literally hundreds of flights connecting these two super metropolises.


São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro

2012 Passengers: 7.72 million

São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are the two largest cities in Brazil and also happen to be the two largest cities in South America. Sao Paulo is also one the fastest growing major cities in the world. Due to the emerging market in Brazil and the rest of the region, the air traffic in recent years has ballooned. Surprisingly, even though these two cities are only located about 5 hours by car apart, this air route has continued to grow at a steady rate. It is no doubt that the upcoming Olympics will only increase the air traffic in the area.


Sydney and Melbourne

2012 Passengers: 8.06 million

Located roughly 500 miles apart in southern Australia, the air traffic between these two cities has been growing at an astonishing rate. Much of the country’s business takes place in one of these two cities. With a steady stream of business travelers and vacationers from around the world, it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise it is the 3rd busiest air route in world.


Tokyo and Sapporo

2012 Passengers: 8.21 million

Although, it rarely gets as much attention as many of Japan’s other large cities, Sapporo, it is actually the fourth largest city in Japan. It first rose to the public’s attention when it hosted the 1972 Winter Olympics, which also marked the first time the Olympics were held in an Asian country. Every year the city’s Sapporo Snow Festival draws more than 2 million tourists from around the world, which contributes significantly to the air traffic in the area. Many of these tourists first fly into Tokyo then transfer to Sapporo, which has continues to rack up the passenger count every year.


Seoul and Jeju

2012 Passengers: 10.16 million

Most people probably would never have guessed, but the busiest air route in the world connects two cities in the country of South Korea. Jeju is located on an island off the southern coast of Korea. In recent years the prosperity of Jeju has been increasing at a rapid pace. It has even been termed as South Korea’s answer to Silicon Valley. In addition, Jeju is a very popular vacation destination and attracts millions of vacationers from South Korea’s capital city, Seoul. With almost 2 million more travelers on an annual basis than the second busiest travel route in the world, it isn’t expected that this route will lose ground anytime soon.


Featured image: Flickr by Justin De La Ornellas

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