31 May 2023
When it comes to airports, bigger is always better. These aviation hubs are not just gateways to a country or destination, they are also transit points for passengers who are on layovers.
Airports are also a great place for tourists to get some shopping done – duty-free or otherwise – and to try international cuisines.
Here are 10 major airports around the world today that offer passengers more than just boarding gates and comfortable waiting lounges.
Beijing Daxing International Airport, Beijing, China
Beijing Daxing International Airport started operating in 2019 as the second international airport in Beijing. (The other airport is the Beijing Capital International Airport.)
Daxing covers a sprawling area of over 4,660ha, which is as large as 100 football fields. It was designed by the late world-renowned architect Zaha Hadid, and is shaped like a starfish, earning it the nickname “starfish airport”.
Like many of Zaha’s famous buildings, the starfish design was implemented for practical reasons – despite the airport being incredibly huge, passengers on transit or layovers don’t have to walk too far to get from one gate to another, thanks to the airport’s shape.
Apart from that, the airport’s interior (as seen on the cover picture) uses gorgeous, sleek lines and geometric shapes, making it look very modern.
Based on information from the Centre for Aviation (CAPA), the airport welcomed over 52 million passengers last year, despite China only opening to international tourists this year.
Denver International Airport, Colorado, the United States
With a total area of 13,570ha, Colorado’s Denver International Airport is the largest airport in the US. It is so huge that it has taken up a fraction of the entire city of Denver.
The airport sits on a field on the outskirts of the city. Based on information obtained from the City and County of Denver Department of Aviation website, Denver’s airfield had a passenger traffic of 69 million in 2022, with 23 airlines currently operating there.
This airport has a roof that is quite similar to KLIA’s iconic tented roof … but that’s not the most interesting thing about the place. Just before you arrive at the airport (if you’re coming from the city, that is), you will come across a large Blue Mustang sculpture with glowing red eyes by artist Luis Jimenez. The horse was meant to represent the wild spirit of the old American west … until it didn’t.
Also known as “Blucifer” by locals, the horse “killed” its sculptor in 2006 when a large piece of it broke and hit an artery in one of Jimenez’s legs. Two years later, it was installed in front of the airport but locals thought it looked ghastly and even felt that perhaps it was cursed!
Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Malaysia
The Kuala Lumpur International Airport or KLIA is relatively smaller than many of the airports on this list, although the whole KLIA Aeropolis (which includes klia2, the Sepang International Circuit and a few other projects) or “airport city” area is a whopping 10,000ha in size.
KLIA was opened in 1998 and has a main terminal (39ha) and a satellite building (17.6ha). It was designed by the late Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa. There are a handful of eateries and shops in the main terminal before the immigration counters; After the counters, there are numerous duty-free shops, luxury brand outlets, airline lounges, restaurants and sports bars.
In the main terminal, there is also a viewing area for folks who love watching planes take off and land. What’s best about this is that you don’t need to be a passenger to gain access to the area.
Every now and then, the airport will also have art exhibitions to showcase the works of local artists, as well as seasonal events that feature live music and more.
Currently, there are 59 airlines operating from the airport, connecting to over 120 destinations.
According to Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB), KLIA and other Malaysian airports recorded 52.7 million passengers last year, signalling a positive future for the country’s tourism industry.
Auckland Airport, Auckland, New Zealand
The Auckland Airport has been around for more than five decades. But years before that, the land, which stretches over 2,310ha, used to be the training ground of a flying club named the Auckland Aero Club.
Auckland Airport is only 20km away from the city, and several public transportation options are available for tourists to get there.
What’s cool about the airport is that you can find numerous large sculptures and memorabilia of director Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings, who filmed a large part of the movies (including The Hobbit film trilogy) in New Zealand. Jackson is also from New Zealand.
Although the airport grounds are fairly large, it currently only operates on a single runway – a second one is under construction and is expected to be completed in a few years.
King Fahd International Airport, Dammam, Saudi Arabia
The world’s largest airport is the King Fahd International Airport in Dammam. Occupying 77,600ha of land, it nearly outstrips New York City, which spans 78,380ha. The airport, which used to be an American air force base, started operating in late 1999, more than two decades after it was designed.
Despite its expansive size, it is only the third largest in Saudi Arabia in terms of passenger traffic. Based on data from the General Authority of Civil Aviation, King Fahd International Airport welcomes an average of 10 million arrivals annually.
There are many international chain restaurants, duty-free shops and other retail stores here, as well as a handful of prayer rooms. There is also a mosque that can hold over 2,000 devotees!
Suvarnabhumi International Airport, Bangkok, Thailand
Suvarnabhumi International Airport became Thailand’s main airport hub in late 2006, taking over from Don Mueang International Airport, which is still in operation today.
Located in Bangkok, the 3,240ha airport has a steel truss roof, which makes the complex look stunning both from the outside and inside. Suvarnabhumi, which translates to “The Land of Gold” in Sanskrit, is one of the largest airports in South-East Asia.
The airport accommodates 98 airlines, covering 121 destinations around the world.
Based on data from the Airports of Thailand, Suvarnabhumi received 28 million passengers last year.
Hong Kong International Airport
With a total area of 1,905ha, the Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) has been in operation since 1998, just one year after the island was handed over to China by Britain.
Also known as Chek Lap Kok airport by locals (as it is located on Chek Lap Kok island), HKIA is also connected to the ferry terminal, so passengers who fly into the island can head straight to other nearby destinations like Macau and Shenzhen.
Prominent British architect Norman Foster designed the airport, which replaced Hong Kong’s old Kai Tak Airport that was built in 1925.
There are 120 airlines that operate in HKIA, which used to be the busiest cargo airport in the world, and is currently one of the busiest passenger airports in Asia.
HKIA said it handled over 71.5 million passengers in 2019, and 5.7 million passengers in 2022.
Istanbul Airport, Turkiye
At 7,650ha, the “new” Istanbul Airport in Turkiye is definitely one of the world’s largest, as well as one of the busiest. This airport replaced the country’s former main hub – Istanbul Atarturk Airport – just after the first phase of its construction was completed in 2018.
There are another three phases of construction to go, with the expected full completion to be in 2029, according to some reports.
It is said that the airport has the biggest terminal under one roof and the world’s biggest duty-free shopping zone. There are also numerous entertainment and exhibition spaces, including a museum.
The air traffic control tower has a tulip-inspired design, which is a culturally important symbol in Turkiye.
Istanbul Airport was ranked the seventh busiest airport in 2022 with a total passenger count of 64.3 million, according to the Airports Council International (ACI) World.
When the airport is completed, it will be able to handle as many as 200 million passengers a year, making it the world’s biggest airport by passenger traffic.
Changi Airport, Singapore
Singapore’s Changi Airport is famous for consistently winning all the awards… Just recently, it was crowned the World’s Best Airport for the 12th time by Skytrax.
The airport has an area space of 2,500ha, and is one of the largest transportation hubs in Asia, with four terminals currently in operation. A fifth terminal is expected to begin construction in 2025.
If you’ve ever been to Changi Airport, you will know why it has won all those awards over the years. There are so many things passengers can do here – for free – like watch a movie at the cinema, take pictures at the sunflower garden, butterfly garden or any of the many indoor gardens, relax at the koi pond, and spend some time at the gaming centre.
You can also head to the Jewel Changi Airport to check out the famous indoor waterfall – the 40m-tall Rain Vortex. Jewel is a shopping mall that’s linked to one of the terminals, so it is accessible to both passengers and non-passengers.
According to the Changi Airport Group, 83 airlines operate out of Changi; it recorded a total of 32.2 million passengers in 2022.
Narita International Airport, Tokyo, Japan
Narita International Airport is one of two major airports in Tokyo – the other is Haneda Airport. Narita started operating in 1978 and consists of three terminals.
There are plenty of things to do in this airport, and a handful of them are free of charge. But perhaps the best thing to do here is to check out the toy shops and convenience stores to look for quirky items that you can buy as souvenirs. Some of the items you can find at the airport are not sold anywhere else.
There are also specialty stores that sell local crafts, and numerous local artworks that are displayed throughout the airport.
According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Narita has 66 airlines operating in the airport.
Top 10 airports in 2022 (based on passenger traffic)
- Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, US – 93.7 million passengers
- Dallas Fort Worth Airport, US – 73.4 million passengers
- Denver Airport, US – 69.3 million passengers
- Chicago O’Hare Airport, US – 68.3 million passengers
- Dubai Airport, United Arab Emirates – 66.1 million passengers
- Los Angeles International Airport, US – 65.9 million passengers
- Istanbul Airport, Turkiye – 64.3 million passengers
- London Heathrow Airport, England – 61.6 million passengers
- Delhi Airport, India – 59.5 million passengers
- Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, France – 57.5 million passengers
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