Which airports are most connected? It's complex

Do you know which airport is the most connected globally? How about the most connected for U.S. domestic flights?

Here’s a hint: Neither is in Atlanta, home of the world’s busiest airport. 

According to the recent Megahubs 2023 analysis undertaken by the flight data provider OAG, London Heathrow holds that top honor while Chicago O’Hare is the U.S. winner. 

But what exactly is connectivity?

Potential one-stop itineraries, of course, are a piece of the puzzle. 

In its analysis, OAG allowed for as much as a six-hour window between international flight legs and up to a three-hour connection window for domestic itineraries. Based on those parameters, Heathrow had as many 57,540 potential connections between inbound and outbound flights on Aug. 11, the busiest flight day for global aviation during the 12-month period that ended Aug. 31. 

For domestic U.S. flights, O’Hare offered as many as 52,484 potential connections on the same day. 

The potential number of connections alone, however, didn’t win Heathrow and O’Hare their prizes. OAG also compared each airport’s number of scheduled connections with the number of destinations it serves. That metric factors into the company’s determination of the overall effectiveness of each airport as a transit point, because the largest airports in terms of passengers sometimes offer a less holistic slate of connecting itineraries than smaller airports.

Such a scenario is most likely to occur when flights at the larger airport are especially concentrated in high-frequency routes, said OAG senior analyst John Grant. 

While passenger numbers tend to draw the most attention, Grant said that an airport’s overall value as a connecting hub is important. 

“It matters to the airports because they use it in their marketing and their positioning, and it’s also important to the local communities in terms of people’s access to destinations around the world,” he said. 

Heathrow topped this year’s global list, just as it did in OAG’s 2019 connectivity analysis, before the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted international travel.

New York JFK came in second, besting O’Hare from a standpoint of global connectivity due to its international focus. Amsterdam, Kuala Lumpur and Tokyo Haneda rounded out the top five in the OAG ranking. 

For U.S. domestic connectivity, Atlanta was in second place, behind O’Hare. Denver, Dallas/Fort Worth and Charlotte round out the top five. 

From a domestic standpoint, more centrally located airports, such as O’Hare and Denver, are particularly well positioned as one-stop transit points, Grant said. Both those airports also serve as a major connecting location for more than one of the four largest U.S. carriers. Denver is a United hub and home to the largest operation in Southwest’s system. O’Hare is a hub for United and American. 

“Chicago has a geographic location that can never be taken away from it,” Grant said. “And you count on both of your hands those airports in the world that are truly blessed with two global alliance hubs.”

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