FILE - In this Feb. 11, 2015, file photo, ground traffic is seen from the control tower at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago.
Photo: AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File
Photo: AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File

Chicago O’Hare reclaims partial title as world’s busiest airport from Hartsfield-Jackson

Chicago O’Hare has reclaimed a partial title as the world’s busiest airport, operating more flights than Hartsfield-Jackson International in 2018, according to Federal Aviation Administration data.

Hartsfield-Jackson has long held the title of world’s busiest airport measured by passenger counts, but O’Hare has surpassed Atlanta in flight counts in the past -- most recently in 2014.

The news of O’Hare's ascent came on a day when the world’s busiest airport in passenger counts felt way too busy: Hartsfield-Jackson had 1.5-hour long security lines on Monday morning after the Super Bowl. But the "world's busiest airport" title has also been a key piece of Atlanta's bragging rights.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel issued a statement Monday saying: “Chicago is proud to be the home of the best connected airport in the U.S., and now the busiest airport for total flights, as well.”  O’Hare has been building new runways and modernizing its airfield layout to increase flight capacity.

According to FAA Air Traffic Activity System data for last year, O’Hare had 903,747 flights, while Hartsfield-Jackson had only 895,502 flights.

An airport like Atlanta's can handle more passengers even if it has fewer flights than another airport by hosting more flights on larger planes. Delta Air Lines, for example, has been replacing smaller planes and regional jets with larger mainline planes, increasing the number of passengers even if it doesn't increase the number of flights.

The two rival airports engaged in a Twitter war this week on the world’s busiest title:

While O’Hare saw a 4.2 percent increase in flight operations to give it the lead in flight counts, other airports overseas have been narrowing Atlanta’s lead in passenger counts in recent years, including Beijing and Dubai.

Chicago O’Hare handled about 79.8 million passengers in 2017, putting it in 6th place for passenger counts worldwide that year. Hartsfield-Jackson in the No. 1 spot handled about 103.9 million passengers that year, according to Airports Council International, which has not yet released its ranking for 2018.

Hartsfield-Jackson said its preliminary figures show it handled nearly 107.4 million passengers in 2018, up 3.33 percent from 2017.

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About the Author

Kelly Yamanouchi
Kelly Yamanouchi
Business reporter Kelly Yamanouchi covers airlines and the airport.