Busy Airports in the United States: Conquering Crowds with Confidence

Busy Airports in the United States: Conquering Crowds with Confidence

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Airports are the bustling engines of global travel, connecting people and cultures across vast distances. But for travelers, navigating a busy airport can feel like an obstacle course. Long lines, delayed flights, and the sheer volume of people can turn a smooth journey into a stressful experience.

At Squaremouth, we understand the challenges of navigating busy airports. That’s why we’ve compiled this guide to the busiest airports in the United States, with tips to help you breeze through your travels, even during peak times.

America’s Bustling Hubs: The Top Contenders

Although the title of “busiest airport” is a dynamic one, some airports consistently rank at the top. Here are the busiest airports in the United States:

  • Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL): The undisputed champion, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson consistently holds the crown. A major hub for domestic and international travel, ATL boasts a complex layout and high passenger volume.
  • Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW): Serving the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, DFW is another major hub with extensive domestic and international connections.
  • Denver International Airport (DEN): Located in the heart of the Mile High City, Denver International Airport is a significant player for both domestic flights and connections to Latin America.
  • Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD): A key gateway to the Midwest, O’Hare handles a massive volume of domestic traffic and offers numerous international connections.
  • Los Angeles International Airport (LAX): LAX is a major gateway to the West Coast and a popular destination for both leisure and business travelers.
  • John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK): A major gateway to the East Coast, JFK serves New York City and offers extensive domestic and international connections.
  • Orlando International Airport (MCO): A popular destination for theme park enthusiasts and families, MCO experiences high passenger volumes, particularly during holidays and school breaks.
  • Harry Reid International Airport (LAS): Serving Las Vegas, the entertainment capital of the world, LAS experiences heavy traffic during weekends and holidays

Conquering the Crowds: Essential Travel Tips for Busy Airports

Knowing you’ll be flying through a busy airport can help you prepare for a smoother travel experience. Here are some things to consider:

  • Plan ahead: Research the airport layout beforehand, familiarizing yourself with terminal locations and identifying essential services like baggage claim and security checkpoints. Many airports offer interactive maps and virtual tours on their websites to help you navigate with ease.
  • Arrive early: This is especially crucial at busy airports. Factor in potential delays like traffic congestion and long security lines. Aim to arrive well before your scheduled departure time to avoid unnecessary stress.
  • Embrace technology: Many airports offer mobile apps that allow you to check flight status, find gates and track baggage. Download the relevant app before your trip to stay informed and navigate efficiently.
  • Pack smart: Minimize checked luggage to avoid the hassle of baggage claim queues. Remember to always pack essentials like medication and a change of clothes in your carry-on bag in case of checked luggage delays.
  • Be prepared: Before reaching the security screening area, have your ID and boarding pass ready to hand to the agent. Remove everything from your pockets and place liquids, electronics, belt, and jacket in the provided bins. Try to move as efficiently as possible through the metal detectors and body scanners. Collect your items from the bins quickly so you’re not holding up the line.
  • Stay calm and connected: Busy airports can be overwhelming. Practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing and meditation to manage stress. Stay connected with loved ones by keeping your phone charged and ensuring access to Wi-Fi.

FAQs About the Busiest Airports in the United States

Worried about navigating your departure airport ahead of your upcoming trip? We answer some of the most common questions from travelers regarding long lines and busy terminals. 

How early should I arrive for my flight?

For the major hubs like Atlanta, Chicago O’Hare, and Los Angeles, plan to arrive at least two to three hours before your scheduled departure. Security lines and queues at check-in counters can get lengthy, especially during busy travel periods. Give yourself plenty of buffer time in case of any delays. 

What amenities do the busiest airports offer?

America’s largest airports have amenities to keep you comfortable during long layovers or weather delays. Many offer showers, gyms, spas, and even movie theaters airside after you’ve cleared security. Chicago O’Hare, Dallas/Fort Worth, and Denver International Airport all have yoga rooms. Many airports — like JFK, LAX, and Orlando — have pet relief areas if you’re traveling with your furry friend. Shopaholics will find high-end stores for retail therapy. And foodies won’t go hungry with lots of dining options that range from food courts and snack stands to upscale restaurants.

How do I get around the airport?

Major airports sprawl over thousands of acres, so you’ll likely traverse long distances between gates. Some busy airports offer free shuttles between terminals and satellite gates. At larger airports, consider taking advantage of the landside buses, trains, and trams to avoid hailing a taxi for connections between terminals. 

Once airside, you can ride the moving walkways and airport shuttles to cut down on walking times. If possible, also try to schedule connecting flights with at least an hour or two between to account for transport and any security rescreening.

Are there airport lounges I can access?

Most major airlines operate executive lounges and clubs at the busiest airports, with comfortable seating, buffets, showers, and more. Even if you’re flying economy, you may be able to purchase a day pass for around $30 to $50 to access certain lounges. The Club and Priority Pass also provide pay-per-use access and day passes for around $20 to $30. It’s worth it — airport lounges are an oasis where you can relax, recharge and refuel during long layovers or weather delays.

Is travel insurance worth the investment?

Delays, lost luggage, trip cancellations, and medical emergencies can throw a wrench in your travel plans. Comprehensive travel insurance can financial protection when unforeseen circumstances arise. 

Travel insurance plans are designed to protect you from the unexpected. When choosing travel insurance for your trip through a busy airport, there are several important considerations, such as the cost of your trip and the potential for emergencies at your destination — especially if your trip includes adventurous activities like hiking or skiing. 

For many travelers, the cost of a policy is worth it for the peace of mind alone. There are more policies available today than ever before, so be sure to compare plans to find the one that best fits your needs and budget. 

Written by Jennifer Olvera