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Why DFW Airport Is Now the Busiest Airport in the World

American Airlines is using the pandemic to rethink operations and routing more flights through North Texas.
By Peter Simek |
Joao Carlos Medau via Flickr

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the steps DFW Airport officials were taking to make flying safe in the world of COVID-19. One of the reasons DFW is serving as something of a guinea pig for the new safety measures is because, during the pandemic, the airport has emerged as the busiest in the world.

That fact may have jumped out to aviation aficionados. In 2019, DFW barely scraped into the list of the top 10 busiest world airports by passenger. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International saw the most passengers last year, with 110.5 million, followed by Beijing, LAX, Dubai International, Tokyo International, Chicago O’Hare, London Heathrow, Shanghai Pundong, and Paris-Charles de Gaulle. DFW usually ranks fourth for total takeoffs and landings.

But the pandemic has reshuffled the deck. According to a new report in Condé Nast Traveler, DFW has seen the most takeoffs and landings of any airport in the world for three months in a row. In June there were 25,294 takeoffs at DFW, which was enough to claim the top spot, even though the activity was still roughly half of January’s tallies. A frequent traveler quoted in the Condé Nast Traveler piece says the airport has been so busy at times passengers have had to wait to use crowded Skylink trains. Many concessions are open, though staff and passengers appear to be wearing masks and following social distancing guidelines.

The reason DFW Airport is so busy has to do with the pandemic strategy of its largest carrier, American Airlines. As air travel plummeted since the beginning of the outbreak, American has been using the slowdown as an opportunity to rework its network to remain profitable. That means routing more flights through its hub airports, like DFW. American plans to continue to use DFW Airport as the major departure point for flights heading across the Pacific as well as locations in Western Europe. Miami will remain the airline’s gateway to Latin America, and Philadelphia will serve as AA’s main European gateway.

While this new strategy will mean less non-stop flights for most passengers, local travelers luck out with easier access to some of American’s destinations. Though everything in COVID-19 world is relative, since the total number of flights have been cut in half because of the pandemic. DFW Airport’s spot atop the busiest airport list may also prove short-lived. According to projections, Atlanta will beat out DFW in July.

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