In the dynamic world of aviation, the landscape of international travel is ever evolving, with routes shifting in popularity and capacity. Over the last twelve months, the overwhelming majority of airlines have returned to profitability (with some posting record financial results, and others, notably Ryanair, claiming they have “more money than they know what to do with!), boosted flight frequencies to existing markets, resumed routes that were suspended due to the pandemic, reconnected with regions and opened new markets.
Here’s a closer look at the world’s busiest flight routes, using data from January to December 2023, powered by OAG's Global Airline Schedules Data, to provide an overview of route performance and trends.
2023’s busiest international airline route is Kuala Lumpur to Singapore Changi: A steady leader. The route connecting Kuala Lumpur (KUL) to Singapore Changi (SIN) boasts a staggering 4.9mn seats, and the route secures its position as the busiest, showcasing the enduring popularity of travel between these two vibrant Southeast Asian hubs for business, trade, and tourism.
Cairo to Jeddah: A close second. Nipping at the heels of the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore route is the journey from Cairo (CAI) to Jeddah (JED), securing the second spot with 4.8mn seats. Remarkably, the difference in capacity between the top two routes is a mere 2%.
Hong Kong to Taipei: A shift in dynamics. The Hong Kong (HKG) to Taipei (TPE) route claims the third position in 2023, boasting 4.6mn seats. Interestingly, this route held the top spot in 2019, but its capacity has experienced a 43% drop since then, illustrating the fluid nature of global travel patterns.
Seoul Incheon to Osaka Kansai: The fourth busiest route. Securing the fourth position is the route connecting Seoul Incheon (ICN) to Osaka Kansai (KIX), with 4.2mn seats. As one of the top contenders, this route reflects the robust demand for air travel within the Asia-Pacific region.
Half of the routes in the top 10 busiest international routes for 2023 were not part of the elite list in 2019. These newcomers include Cairo to Jeddah, Seoul Incheon to Osaka Kansai, Seoul Incheon to Tokyo Narita, Dubai to Riyadh, and Bangkok to Seoul Incheon.
Most routes in the international top 10 for 2023 exhibit capacities ranging between 9% and 43% below their 2019 levels. However, one exception stands out: The London Heathrow (LHR) to New York (JFK) route, which boasts a 1% increase with 3.5mn seats.
Across the globe, specific routes shine as regional leaders:
For Asia Pacific: Kuala Lumpur - Singapore Changi with 4,891,952 seats; Europe, Middle East & Africa: Cairo - Jeddah with 4,795,712 seats; Latin America: Orlando - San Juan with 2,436,988 seats; and North America: New York JFK - London Heathrow with 3,878,590 seats.
Domestic skies were abuzz in 2023, and leading the charge as the busiest domestic airline route is the journey from Jeju (CJU) to Seoul (GMP), boasting an impressive 13.7mn seats. This route has maintained its supremacy, reigning as the busiest domestic route not just in 2023 but also in both 2019 and 2022. The gap in capacity between the first and second place on this list is notable, standing at a substantial 15%.
However, a closer look reveals a shifting landscape, as the CJU-GMP route experiences a 21% reduction in airline capacity compared to 2019. In the second spot on our domestic ranking is the route from Hokkaido's Chitose Airport (CTS) to Tokyo Haneda (HND), offering 11.9mn seats. Following closely is the Fukuoka (FUK) to Tokyo Haneda (HND) route, securing the third position with 11.3mn seats and showcasing a modest 6% gap in capacity between second and third place.
The domestic line-up continues with Hanoi (HAN) to Ho Chi Minh City (SGN) as the fourth busiest route, boasting 10.9mn seats, and Melbourne (MEL) to Sydney (SYD) taking the fifth position with 9.3mn seats. Remarkably, Jakarta (CGK) to Denpasar (DPS) claims the tenth spot, making it the only route in the top 10 that did not feature in 2019, highlighting the dynamic shifts in domestic travel preferences.
Examining the data for specific countries, The busiest domestic route in China for 2023 is Beijing (PEK) to Shanghai Hongqiao (SHA) with 8.4mn seats. That is 3% higher than 2019 and 49% more than in 2022 - both years in which PEK-SHA was the busiest domestic route in China. Guangzhou (CAN) to Shanghai Hongqiao (SHA) is in second position with 7.2mn seats and Shenzhen (SZX) to Shanghai Hongqiao (SHA) is in third with 7mn seats. Most of the domestic routes in China for 2023 have increased capacity compared to 2019, ranging from 3% to 31%. However, routes from Beijing (PEK) have decreased capacity by 16% to 43% due to the opening of Beijing Daxing (PKX) airport in September 2019.
In the US, Honolulu (HNL) to Kahului (OGG) is the busiest domestic route in the USA in 2023 with 3.6mn seats, just 3% more than Atlanta (ATL) to Orlando (MCO) in second place with 3.5mn seats. Honolulu (HNL) to Kahului (OGG) was not in the top 10 busiest routes in 2019 and was third in 2022. Las Vegas (LAS) to Los Angeles (LAX) is in third place with 3.5mn seats and New York (JFK) to Los Angeles (LAX) is in fourth place with 3.2mn seats.
The busiest international airport of 2023 is Dubai International Airport (DXB) with 57mn seats, DXB was also the busiest international airport in 2022 and 2019. Calculated using international airline capacity only. London Heathrow Airport (LHR) is in second place with 47mn seats which is similar capacity to 2019 but an increase of 24% compared to 2022.
Amsterdam Airport (AMS) is the third busiest international airport with 37.2mn seats, airline capacity at AMS 10% less compared to 2019 levels. Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) is in fourth with 36.7mn seats, 11% lower than 2019 levels. Two airports in the Top 10 Busiest International Airports for 2023 where not in the Top 10 in 2019, these are:
Doha (DOH), 9th place in 2023 and 13th in 2019, and Madrid Adolfo Suarez-Barajas Airport (MAD), 10th place in 2023 and 14th in 2019.
The author is an aviation analyst. Twitter handle: @AlexInAir
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