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Dubai overtakes Heathrow to become world’s biggest international airport

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It came down to the wire, but the UAE newspaper The National reported on December 30th that Dubai International Airport was on course to overtake Heathrow for the first time to become the world’s biggest international airport.  This is based on the number of passengers taking flights from an airport to a different country.

As of December 22nd, statistics showed that Dubai had handled 68.9m international passengers for the year compared to 67.8m for Heathrow.

It is only due to engineering work in Dubai that the result was even close.  For 80 days earlier in the year, Dubai International closed one of its runways to allow resurfacing to take place, resulting in many airlines reducing their frequencies.

Emirates A380

Below Heathrow comes, in order, Hong Kong, Paris, Amsterdam, Singapore and Frankfurt, all of which have over 50m international passengers per year.

Slightly oddly, the world’s busiest airport – counting domestic and international flights – remains Atlanta.

Dubai International’s days as the world’s biggest international airport are numbered but only because an even bigger airport – Al Maktoum International – will replace it.  Al Maktoum is already open for freight and a limited number of passenger flights on one runway but will eventually have five.  Amazingly, four aircraft will be able to land simultaneously when it is at full capacity at some point in the next decade.

Comments (38)

  • Robbo says:

    That stupid, over-the-top excessive and totally unfair incoming passenger tax the stupid UK government charges will do it. I never fly through LHR or any UK airport anymore. Easier, quicker and CHEAPER from CDG, AMS, BRU. When will these stupid politicians realise the tax is an insidious tax and now it’s affecting the numbers. Good on you DXB.

    • Choco says:

      I love your comment… Agree totally!

    • Dave says:

      Flying THROUGH a UK airport doesn’t subject you to these taxes (just the airport fees and the ‘taxes’ the airline makes up). Starting from the UK makes you subject to APD but is based on your final destination so EDI-LHR-JFK would cost the same in APD as EDI-AMS-JFK.

      • JQ says:

        Relax buddy. You flew F from Sydney to London? If it was one-way, you didn’t pay a cent or penny of tax to the UK government. If you flew back from London to Sydney, then you paid about £190 tax to the UK government.

        You probably think the AIrAsia crash was caused by pilots using the metric system.

      • Will says:

        If you flew BA then what you think was “tax” was in fact mostly BA’s fuel surcharge. £1200 would be about right for 2 people, of which £380 is tax and the rest is fuel surcharge (which is again a nonsense but that’s BA not the chancellor). Even so £380 is bonkers.

        • Lady London says:

          Speaking of taxes, did anyone get the email from Miles & More saying they are halving their “taxes” on award bookingsfor flights within Europe for January and February? I was deeply impressed by one quote that tax on one intra-Europe award flight booked on Miles&More would be only 76 euros instead of 150 euros tax for this period.

          Thank you BA for RFS..

      • JohnG says:

        “whatever know-all” always a clear sign of mature and considered reasoning. Just because you’re too ignorant to understand his point doesn’t mean there wasn’t one.

      • TimS says:

        You seem to be assuming that Dave and JQ are American…even though they are trying to explain a UK tax to you on a UK website? Now I don’t know if either of them are indeed Americans (or “Seppos” as you derisorily call them), British or maybe even Australian as, unlike you, I don’t simply assume.

        As JohnG says, your “Whatever know-all” comment smacks of an immature, childish mentality and hardly adds weight to your argument!

        Thankfully, I know that not all Australians are as ignorant as you and don’t judge your entire country based on pre-concieved xenophobic views. I know this as my wife is Australian…and for the record, I’m British, before you assume I am an American too simply because I don’t agree with your international myopia.

      • RIcatti says:

        Just check the service charge for Heathrow, mate.

    • Froggitt says:

      Its called The Laffer Curve.

  • sandgrounder says:

    I believe they say that when you die, it doesn’t matter if you go to heaven or hell, you will still go via Atlanta.

  • Adam W says:

    Small typo in there – Atlanta’s the world’s busiest airport rather than the world’s business airport.

  • Patrick says:

    Slightly OT but related to DXB.

    I’ve booked two Avios redemptions, HKG-DXB on CX and DXB-HEL on AY. Booked on so obviously separate tickets as I booked on No availability on AY directly, or via LHR (not that I care much for CE or even CW).

    I do have some business to conduct in DXB during my 23-hour stopover in DXB. I am BA Gold and flying J. Will CX be able to check my bags all the way to HEL and can they issue my boarding pass for the second segment? I need to transport 50 kg of checked bags and want to avoid booking a hotel or paying for luggage storage if I can.

    My checked bags have spent 23 hours at ZRH and LHR before, but these were on one ticket with both segments on LX and BA respectively.

    • Waribai says:

      I think they will definitely check your bags thru but you might have to pick up a new boarding pass but that’s no big deal

    • Richie says:

      I did something similar flying with qantas then changing to a ba flight 20h later. The bags were tagged right through

  • Phillip says:

    You only need to look at the network of Atlanta’s biggest airline stakeholder, and you get an idea.

    It’s all about the frequencies not the big planes!

    • tony says:

      Transited in ATL a few months back and the crowds were akin to the shopping plaza underneath Canary Wharf between 12pm & 2pm on a weekday. The transit train was like the underground in rush hour, too. Absolutely mobbed. But in fairness it seemed to work well – no aimless holding to land (LHR) or 60 mins until we can start our engines (JFK)…

  • Waribai says:

    Looks like one or two people have got out the wrong side of bed!

    • Worzel says:

      Looks like just the one to me.

      • xcalx says:

        Me too and that one person could have been heading TO bed. Maybe a few too many tinnies at the barbie.

    • Nick says:

      I agree

    • Richie says:

      Yes someone made a comment, someone then tried to explain a few facts. The first guy took offence. Had a hissy fit and spat the dummy out. -all while insulting people because he simply didn’t understand the facts. Happy new year

  • flyforfun says:

    Apart from air fan boys, does it make much difference which airport is the busiest? It might float some statistician’s boat, but does it provide and kudos these days? A line in the Guinness Book of Records perhaps? Does it encourage you or discourage you to fly through Dubai? I went through for the first time this year and didn’t find it to be that great. Much less impressive than the hype lead me to believe.

    • Rob says:

      It would be less interesting if it was, say, Mumbai losing the title to Dubai. The fact that it is a UK airport losing the title – and one which is making a big song and dance about its desperate need to expand – makes its relevant.

      And whilst Dubai is a dump (except on the new Emirates concourse) Heathrow T1, T3 and T4 are not up to much either! At least Heathrow doesn’t make sure that non-British airlines are given the smallest, most out-of-the-way positions for their lounges though …..

      • Lady London says:

        I’d be happy for Heathrow to expand provided it’s on condition that BAA and BA get their heads together to sort out the black hole that is luggage transiting at T5.

      • Andy says:

        Hmmm, bit harsh to call DXB a dump, it is an extremely busy airport running at close to capacity, with diverse range of travellers.
        T1 is a bit smaller and older than the rest, but has been tidied up over the years and still a far sight better than most western european airports I have been through,
        I have flown through DXB regularly over the past decade, and have seen first hand the remarkable growth it has gone through, I doubt many airports elsewhere would have coped as well. You cna only look at nearby DOH And AUH both have only recently upgraded or moved to new sites to keep pace.

    • Lady London says:

      I’ve detested Dubai airport on my very little experience of it. But then I’ve never flown through it as other than an ordinary passenger in Y.

      Perhaps it’s a better experience if you’re someone important or can exercise frequent flyer privileges.

  • callum says:

    It’s hardly surprising that Atlanta is busiest when taking domestic flights into account. Heathrow, Amsterdam, Dubai etc are all in small countries that are near many other countries – the vast majority of their flights are therefore going to be international. Atlanta is in a huge country that is only near a handful of others, it’s domestic operation will therefore be a much higher proportion of flights.