Exploring the Top Largest Airports in America

The North American continent is a hotbed of air traffic. The US has historically been the country with the largest number of air passengers, with around 925 million passengers travelling by air in 2019. This is in no part due to the focus on aviation as the mode of choice for inter-city travel, due to the country’s size and the distance between key cities.

So, unsurprisingly, the top ten largest airports in North America are all located in the US. The largest airport in Canada, Toronto Pearson International Airport, narrowly misses out on the list with its footprint of 18.67km2 (7.2 square miles). The largest airport in Mexico, Mexico City International, measures just 7.5km2 (2.9 square miles).

So, what are the largest airports in North America, by land area?

10. Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW), Michigan: 19.6km²

Located in Michigan, Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW) covers 19.6km² (7.6 square miles), featuring six runways and two terminals. It was originally constructed in 1929 on 2.6km² (one square mile) of land bought by Michigan’s Wayne County, which still owns the airport.

DTW handled more than 31.4 million passengers in 2023, with 290,238 recorded aircraft movements.

The McNamara Terminal has three concourses with 103 gates, which are used by Delta Air Lines and its partners Aeromexico and Air France. There are 62 gates at Concourse A, including 12 for international boarding with 10 of those featuring dual jet bridge loading and unloading to speed up deplaning.

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Concourses B and C at the terminal are connected to Concourse A by a tunnel that has a decorative colour-changing light installation. The concourses are used for smaller aircraft operating on regional flights.

The North Terminal opened in 2008, replacing the former Barry and Smith terminals in an effort to meet the expected amount of traffic. It operates as Concourse D and has 26 gates, as well as a customs facility for international flights.

9. John F Kennedy International Airport (JFK), New York: 21.04km²

New York’s biggest airport is John F Kennedy (JFK) International Airport, spanning 21.04km² (8.1 square miles) in the eastern borough of Queens.

The airport has six terminals with 128 operational gates, four runways and four helipads. It handled over 62 million passengers and saw 480,793 aircraft movements in 2023, which makes it the 6th busiest airport in the US.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced in October 2018 that JFK will be undertaking a $13bn expansion plan comprising two new terminals, a ground transport network, and upgrades to the runways and security. Work is expected to start in 2020 and be completed by 2025.

JFK was originally built with ten terminals before demolition works. The Tower Air Terminal has not been in use since 2000. Terminals 8 and 9 were merged into the new Terminal 8 facility, which is twice the size of Madison Square Garden and was opened in stages between 2005 and 2007.

SkyTeam Alliance and other airlines operate domestic and international services from Terminal 1, while Delta Air Lines has full use of Terminal 2 and operates its main international flights from Terminal 4. Terminal 5 is managed by JetBlue Airways and used by multiple airlines, including Aer Lingus services that have pre-cleared immigration from Ireland.

British Airways operates Terminal 7 as part of a lease with the airport until 2022 with an optional three years and has plans to spend $65m to upgrade the terminal.

8. San Francisco International Airport (SFO), California: 21.07km²

San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is 13 miles south of downtown San Francisco in California, covering 21.07km² (8.1 square miles). The airport handled more than 50 million passengers in 2023, making it the 14th busiest airport in the US and the 30th busiest in the world.

There are four terminals at the airport, including the International Terminal. It was opened in 2000, when it was named the biggest international airport terminal in North America, spanning 167,226m2 (41.3 acres). It was the first in the world to have gates able to accommodate the Airbus A380 double-decker aircraft.

The Harvey Milk Terminal, previously known as Terminal 1 or the South Terminal, features boarding areas B with 24 gates, and C with 10 gates. A terminal renovation project began in June 2016, with the terminal re-opening to the public in 2021.

Opened in 1954, Terminal 2 is the airport’s oldest and has been renovated a number of times to enhance facilities. Terminal 3 comprises boarding areas E and F with 39 gates in total and is used by United Airlines to operate domestic flights.

7. O’Hare International Airport (ORD), Illinois: 30.86km²

O’Hare International Airport (ORD) spans 30.86km² (11.9 square miles) in the northwest metropolitan area of Chicago. It is the 9th busiest airport in the world, handling over 73 million passengers and experiencing 720,582 aircraft movements in 2023.

ORD has four terminals and nine concourses. Terminals 1, 2, and 3 are mainly used for flights across the US and to destinations with border clearance, whereas Terminal 5 is used for all international arrivals, as it is the only facility on site with customs screening available.

In 2018, the airport confirmed plans for a wide-scale expansion and upgrade. Named O’Hare 21, the plans include the demolition of the current terminal to construct the O’Hare Global Terminal. Gates and concourses will be reconstructed to increase capacity with a total of 235 gates, and ramp space will be expanded to accommodate larger aircraft.

The $8.5bn O’Hare 21 project is intended to boost capacity at the airport by up to 60% with the addition of two new satellite concourses. Plans were approved by the City of Chicago, the City Council, and a number of airlines in 2018.

6. Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC), Utah: 31.16km²

Located four miles west of the city, Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC) covers 31.16km² (12 square miles), featuring four runways and three helipads. The Airport is a hub for Delta Air Lines, Alpine Air Express, and Corporate Air.

The airport is served by the Utah Transit Authority’s TRAX system, which was specially extended in 2013. Visitors to the airport can use the TRAX network’s park-and-ride facilities to avoid paying parking charges at SLC.

SLC handled over 26 million passengers in 2023, making it one of the least busy airports on this list. When first built in 1960, it was designed to handle less than half the current volume of traffic. As a result of the growth, the airport has been undergoing expansion since 2014.

More than 500,00m² (123.6 acres) of the airport’s land is leased to the US Government for military operations as the Roland R Wright Air National Guard Base.

5. George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), Texas: 40.46km²

Houston’s main airport, George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) is located across 40.46km² (15.6 square miles) of land 37km north of the city. It is owned by the City of Houston and serves as the second largest hub for United Airlines in the country, after Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. IAH served more than 46 million passengers in 2023, with 399,805 aircraft movements.

There are five terminals at the airport named A-E, which are accessible through three main entrances. There is an on-site Marriott Hotel located between Terminals B and C. Terminal A mainly serves domestic and Canadian flights that are not operated by United Airlines and is split into two North and South concourses with ten gates each.

Terminals B and C are used by United Airlines and its United Express branch mainly for domestic operations, as well as Terminal E, which serves as the airline’s base for international flights.

Terminal D opened in 1990 as an international arrivals location and is known as the Mickey Leyland Terminal. It features common-use gates, check-in desks and facilities for more than 30 airlines that operate from the terminal. In 2014, Houston City Council confirmed plans to demolish the terminal building and build a new facility in its place with more gates and extra space to accommodate Airbus A380 aircraft.

4. Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD), Washington DC: 52.6km²

Located in Virginia, US, Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) covers 52.6km² (20.3 square miles), 26 miles west of Washington DC. Despite being one of the largest airports in the world, the facility handled approximately 25 million passengers in 2023, making it the 28th busiest in North America.

The airport has a main terminal building and two midfield terminals with a total of four concourses. The main building facilitates ticketing, baggage claims, US customs, and an arrivals building, which was expanded in 2009 to allow it to process 2,400 passengers an hour.

Concourses A and B are located in the building nearest the main terminal. They are used for international travel and domestic flights not operated by United Airlines, which has full use of concourses C and D in the second building.

An underground passenger transport system called AeroTrain is used to connect the main terminal with Concourses A and C, as well as Concourse B in the other direction. The lines can be expanded further to connect additional concourse buildings and create a bi-directional loop around the airport.

3. Orlando International Airport (MCO), Florida: 53.83km²

Orlando International Airport (MCO) is the third largest airport in North America, spanning 53.83km² (20.8 square miles), which includes four runways and one helipad.

MCO was first opened as McCoy US Air Force Base in 1942 for military operations. It was designated as an international airport for civil use in 1976 and named a large hub airport three years later, having handled five million passengers in 1978. The airport served more than 57 million passengers in 2023, with 405,925 aircraft movements.

The site features a main landside building with two terminals A and B. Terminal A is the northern side of the building and leads to Airside 1 and Airside 2, while the southern Terminal B links to airsides 3 and 4.

In order to handle growing passenger traffic, MCO expanded to a South Terminal Complex (STC) that features Terminal C and a connection to an intermodal transport hub to link the airport with the Florida High-Speed Rail Line.

“Dallas / Fort Worth Airport” from the sky , Texas State USA

2. Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), Texas: 69.63km²

Covering 69.63km² (26.9 square miles) between the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth in Texas, Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) has five terminal buildings with 174 gates in total. The airport is the 3rd busiest in the world, serving over 80 million passengers in 2023.

The five terminals, named A-E, are linked with the 7.74km (4.8-mile) Skylink automated people mover system. Skylink runs through DFW’s Express South car park to accommodate the future Terminal F due to open in 2025.

The Terminal Renewal and Improvement Programme (TRIP) was carried out across DFW to restructure and modernise facilities and make the airport suitable for passenger requirements over the next 50 years. Work on the project was completed in 2018.

1. Denver International Airport (DIA), Colorado: 135.69km²

Denver International Airport (DIA) is the largest airport in the US and North America, spanning 135.69km² (52.4 square miles). Despite its size, it handled 77.8 million passengers in 2023, making it the 3rd busiest airport in the US and the 6th busiest in the world.

The airport has six runways that are spaced 4,200ft apart, and the 16,000ft 16R/34L runway is the longest in the US available for public use. Air transport rating organisation Skytrax ranked the airport as 29th best in the world in 2018, which was the highest position for any US airport.

DIA was originally designed to allow future expansion to take place, including space for two more concourses, as well as to optimise the new airport’s runways for adverse weather conditions that caused problems at Stapleton Airport.

The 139,000m² (34.34-acre) Jeppesen Terminal provides landside facilities at the airport. It is separated into East and West terminals and has three passenger levels. Concourse A is accessible using a footbridge, whereas concourses B and C can only be accessed through the automated guideway train system. Construction on a modernisation project at the terminal was completed in 2021 and included new check-in counters, screening areas, and commercial spaces.

This article was originally published on 28 November 2018 but has since been updated, as of 9 April 2024, to include up-to-date statistics and information.