When people refer to “big” airports, they typically think of large hubs with huge numbers of passengers transiting through. But bigger doesn’t always mean busier. The largest airports in the world are those that occupy the highest total acreage of land. And yes, some of the biggest are also some of the world’s busiest—but not always. Some are hubs that have big hopes for future growth, while others have interesting stories behind how and why they acquired and maintain such a large footprint.
And frequent travelers may be surprised by who’s in and who’s not. Take Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson, which for most of the past quarter-century has held the title of world’s busiest airport by passenger count, but—with 4,700 acres or about 7.5 square miles of land—doesn’t come close to getting in the top 10 in terms of area. Chicago O’Hare, also one of the most heavily traveled hubs, occupies less than a quarter of Denver International Airport’s property, which, at 53 square miles, is the biggest airport in the United States.
There are many reasons some airports are really big in land space—the most obvious being the old real estate mantra: “location, location, location.” Six of the ten largest airfields are in the U.S.—perhaps unsurprisingly, two are in Texas—and, more specifically in the south and the west, where airport developers were able to grab more land than they needed initially in case they wanted to expand, or simply to serve as a buffer zone. (Once an airport is built and is situated within a surrounding community, it’s almost impossible to expand its footprint given the local opposition this would incur.)
So, what are the behemoths that make up the list of world’s largest airports? Since there’s no single, authoritative source for this data, here is our ranking based on the airports’ own published dimensions, local government data, and other sources, such as Guinness World Records.
What is the world’s largest airport?
The world’s largest airport is King Fahd International Airport, in Damman, Saudi Arabia. The gargantuan hub improbably tops the list, a status bestowed by the Guinness World Records, but its purported size is so mind-boggling that it begs some additional research—its 300-square-mile girth would be the equivalent of an entire country, in fact it is larger than neighboring Bahrain. One possible explanation: during the Gulf War in the late 1990s the desert airfield vastly expanded its land holdings to accommodate American military operations, and an air base is still situated on that land, according to militarybases.com. The site is also home to a mosque, which is located over a parking garage, and a school, according to other published reports.
The 10 largest airports in the world
1. King Fahd International Airport in Dammam, Saudia Arabia (DMM)—300 square miles
Despite its massive size, on the civilian side, King Fahd International Airport, with 10 million passengers annually, is a much smaller player; the other main Saudi Arabia airports, in Riyadh and Jeddah, outrank it in passenger traffic. On its website, the airport provides the dimensions for its commercial airport footprint within the larger 300-square-mile area: around 14 square miles, which still puts it in the top 20 biggest airports. But a spokesperson for Guinness World Records confirmed to AFAR that King Fahd is indeed regarded as the world’s number one largest airport in their book, based on the land it occupies.
2. Denver International Airport (DEN)—53 square miles
Denver International Airport quite literally embraces wide-open spaces—it’s so big that it’s more than double the size of the next largest U.S. airport, Dallas/Fort Worth. Why all this room? When the airport was built in the early 1990s, the city chose a site that was 25 miles from downtown, 19 miles farther than the airport it was replacing, Stapleton. The extra breathing room allowed it to build six runways—with enough space to add another six in the future—and the Denver hub recently completed a terminal expansion that added 39 new gates bringing the total number of gates across the airport’s three terminals to 161 (a 30 percent increase over its previous capacity). The airport also now has three outdoor decks, post-security, with views of the Rocky Mountains and Colorado plains in the distance, as well as family seating areas, nursing rooms, new bathroom facilities, charging stations, and workstations. There is an 82,000-square-foot outdoor plaza that’s open to travelers and the general public.
3. Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KUL)—39 square miles
The Malaysian capital’s international air gateway is one of the world’s biggest when considering the actual size of its property, dwarfing some of the better-known airports in the region, like Singapore’s award-winning Changi (often recognized as the world’s best airport). Why? Since opening 25 years ago, on a large swath of former farmland, Kuala Lumpur International Airport has had big plans to expand—and now, with a new terminal on the drawing board, the airport will eventually be able to handle up to 100 million passengers a year, up from the 24 million that it accommodated in 2022. The airport serves as a key hub for Malaysia Airlines and low-cost carrier AirAsia and is served by numerous foreign lines. A high-speed train connects the airport to the city center in 28 minutes.
4. Istanbul Airport (IST)—29.5 square miles
Opened in 2019 amid great fanfare—and with bold ambitions to become the world’s biggest airport serving 200 million passengers a year—the new Istanbul Airport is 22 miles outside Istanbul, with ample room to expand. IST stands out with its modern design, its focus on sustainability, and architectural flourishes like a tulip-shaped air traffic control tower. Inside the vast terminal, travelers can take advantage of Turkish Airlines’ spacious lounges as well as relaxation areas, and a wide range of eateries. The airport is slated to be fully completed by 2025 and will ultimately feature six runways, putting it on the path to be a major global player.
5. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)—26 square miles
Long dominated by the world’s largest carrier, American Airlines, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport has a footprint that is bigger than the island of Manhattan—it even has its own zip code—and five terminals with a total of 168 gates. It is also a model for sustainability, with plans for a zero-carbon electrical plant that will help it achieve net-zero emissions by 2030. With seven operational runways, the airport is able to handle more than 73 million fliers a year, who no doubt appreciate DFW’s wide array of food choices and the opportunities to work it off, with an internal walking path and yoga studio.
6. Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers, Florida (RSW)—21.2 square miles
While not large in passenger numbers—it handled only 10 million fliers last year—Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers is well positioned as the gateway to Florida’s southwest region, serving such destinations as the Cape Coral-Fort Myers area, as well as Naples, Marco Island, and Punta Gorda. Its landmass, though, makes it the third biggest airport in the U.S. after Denver and DFW. So, what’s with the big footprint? Turns out that some 6,000 acres of its total land area has been conserved as protected swamp lands and set aside for environmental protection purposes.
7. Orlando International Airport (MCO)—20.7 square miles
Located six miles from downtown Orlando, this airport is the main international gateway for central Florida and its world-famous theme parks. Orlando International Airport has scheduled nonstop service from 48 international destinations, bringing hordes of tourists from throughout the world to experience this popular family-friendly resort destination. Last year the airport opened the new $2.8 billion Terminal C and the private high-speed rail line Brightline just unveiled a station at the airport.
8. Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD)—18.7 square miles
When Dulles airport opened in a rural area of Northern Virginia in the early 1960s, its expansive property was seen as a drawback; 30 miles from the capital, Beltway insiders regarded it as something of a white elephant, despite its striking Eero Saarinen-designed terminal. Now a significant gateway for United Airlines, the airport is a major East Coast international hub with 61 international destinations. And while it can still take nearly an hour to drive there from the district, a Metro line expansion now offers a public transit alternative.
9. Beijing Daxing International Airport (PKX)—18 square miles
“The biggest airport in the world” is how Beijing Daxing International Airport describes itself on its website. Well, not quite, but it is definitely in mega-airport territory, with what it rightfully can claim is one of the world’s largest single-building terminals, spanning 7.5 million square feet—the equivalent of 98 soccer fields. The airport, designed by the late renowned architect Zaha Hadid, opened in 2019, and ultimately it aims to handle 100 million travelers by 2040. Plans are underway to expand not only the passenger facilities, but the number of runways, from the current four to seven.
10. George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston (IAH)—17.1 square miles
When Houston civic leaders purchased land for a new airport in the late 1950s, they were already thinking big—and in the ensuing decades its real estate has expanded to its present size. George Bush Intercontinental Airport Houston now features five runways that can handle a high number of long-distance flights to Latin America and beyond, with Houston serving as a main hub for United Airlines. Further expansion plans include a new combined terminal D and E that is scheduled to open by early 2025.