Airports: kinda important to the whole air travel thing, especially since neither 737s nor A320s are that willing to land on unprepared fields. But airports do more than provide runways for take-offs and landings; they also serve to house passengers, store cargo, and do plane maintenance. Naturally, the airports at popular destinations – and well-traveled transit points – are the busiest. So here are five biggest, busiest airports in Europe – as a passenger, you might have visited one already!
1. London Heathrow Airport, LHR
Established in 1929, London Heathrow Airport is the biggest airport in Europe in terms of passenger numbers. There even used to be a Heathrow Farm just about where Terminal 1 is today.
With five terminals (even if Terminal 1 is closed and marked as an expansion area for Terminal 2), LHR handled 78 million passengers in 2017 alone. This makes it the busiest in Europe – and if you only count international passengers, it was the second busiest in the world in 2016! Planes are always setting down on the British Empire, so it seems!
Currently, a third runway is planned to be added to the airport. And if the airport ever closes, there are plans to make it into a built-up area, with Terminal 5 becoming a shopping mall. Terminal 2 ½ will retain its role as a secret wizard dirigible landing field.
2. Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, CDG
Charles de Gaulle Airport might be the youngest on the list – the construction started in 1966 – but it is not the least. With an interesting scheme of parallel runways, it certainly pulls its weight. In 2017, 69,471,442 passengers traveled via CDG, marking it as the second busiest airport in Europe.
Passengers who want to continue the ground part of the journey in an equally speedy manner can board of one the famous TGV trains, which stop at the airport. The trains are mostly immune to one of the airport’s most notorious problems: rabbits and hares breed quite rapidly in the area – you might even see some during take-off. It’s probably the cutest problem an airport might ever have!
3. Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, AMS
Schiphol has at least three theories about its name. The weirdest one claims that the lake that used to lie where the airport now stands was very treacherous, earning the name of “Ship Hell.” There are other curious aspects to it, too. The airport is built with a single-terminal design, which splits off into three departure halls. About the only regular thing about the AMS is its inception in 1916 as a military airfield.
Today, AMS isn’t used to launch flights against the perfidious Bosche. However, it is the third busiest airport in Europe. It handled nearly 69 million passengers in 2017. That’s about 7,7% growth in comparison to the last year – a great achievement for such a venerable airport.
And if you ever have to wait for a connecting flight at AMS, there are some sights for you to see. The Rijksmuseum (the national museum) has an annex at the airport for you to gawk at art and thus restore brain functions lost due to airport novels. There’s also a library filled with works of Dutch authors that are all about the history of the country. Maybe they even have something on the use of “hellburners” – exploding ships. And if you just want to watch the planes do their thing, Panoramaterras offers great rooftop views!
4. Frankfurt Airport, FRA
Frankfurt might only be Germany’s fifth biggest city, but it is home to the country’s busiest airport. Consequently, it’s the main hub for Lufthansa, the most German of airlines. However, the southern side of their airport used to house the Rhein-Main Air Base from 1948 to 2005, with its shining moment of glory being the hub for the Berlin Airlift.
But now that it’s completely civilian and not ferrying goods over the Soviet lines, Frankfurt handles can handle nearly 65 million passengers a year – and it did so in 2017. No surprise there: this airport serves over 300 direct routes to destinations in 5 continents, making it the largest airport by the number of non-stop flights! Hub-ba, hub-ba, if you know what I mean.
Your drunk uncle Lou isn’t the only dead weight the airport handles, though. Frankfurt is also pretty big in terms of freight: considering that 2,110,670 metric tonnes of cargo passed through it in 2017, it’s the largest cargo airport in Europe and 10th in the world.
While the two terminals that the airport already has can handle a lot of traffic and planes as big as Airbus A380 (world’s largest passenger jet – bigger than even the impressive C-5 Galaxies that used to land in the military airbase), the construction of Terminal 3 was started some years ago. The reason for the expansion? Predictions say that Frankfurt Airport will see about 90 million yearly passengers by 2020!
5. Istanbul Atatürk Airport, IST
IST was opened back when planes had even odds of crashing instead of landing. Started in 1912 as a military field, the Yeşilköy Airport was renamed to Istanbul Atatürk International Airport in the 1980s, all to honor the founder of the Republic of Turkey. Since IST serves the city of Istanbul, it is, unsurprisingly, the largest airport in the country and it also houses the HQ of Turkish Airlines! And now you know where all your hate mail ends up.
Istanbul Ataturk Airport is quite large on the international scale, too: according to Airports Council International, 63,872,283 passengers passed through IST in 2017, making it the 15th busiest airport in the world, and 5th in Europe. However, it’s only second to Frankfurt Airport by the number of non-stop destinations served: 273! How is that for a hub?
However, it might not enjoy its grand status for long. Istanbul New Airport – terrific name, that – is currently under construction on the European side of Turkey. It is planned as the largest airport in the world, with the capacity to handle 150 million passengers per year. The inauguration of this listicle-bait airport is supposed to happen in October 2018. Since the plan is to shut down IST (and transfer its code to the new airport) upon completion of the new one, you might not have much time to visit it!