These are the world’s busiest airports and here’s how you can navigate them for stress-free travel

Travellers navigating through a busy airport. Picture: Supplied

Travellers navigating through a busy airport. Picture: Supplied

Published May 17, 2024


Airports play an important role as facilities where people can connect to their destinations. The latest travel data shows that global air passenger traffic reached nearly 8.5 billion in 2023, marking a significant increase from previous years.

When it comes to travel, understanding which airports consistently please passengers and those that tend to be slightly more stressful than others can transform your travel experience.

VisaGuide.World surveyed more than 1 500 air passengers to uncover the world’s busiest or most stressful airports. VisaGuide.World’s survey results regarding the world’s top 5 busiest airports:

London Gatwick Airport, UK

A major international hub, Gatwick is ranked as Europe’s most stressful airport. This is understandable, considering it balances immense passenger traffic despite being significantly smaller than many of its competitors.

Istanbul Airport, Turkey

Europe’s busiest airport is undoubtedly impressive. However, its massive size can make for lengthy walks between gates and potential delays due to the number of flights managed.

Munich Airport, Germany

Though a significant European hub, Munich Airport is relatively compact, which can mean crowded spaces.

Factor in its higher frequency of flight delays (the highest of the top 5 at 49.2%) and you’ll understand why it’s worthwhile to build extra time into your schedule if transiting here.

Denver International Airport, US

It’s the most anxiety-inducing airport outside Europe, according to the survey results. It’s the largest airport in the US and the second largest in the world, so to call Denver International Airport “busy” is often an understatement.

That said, it had the lowest flight delay frequency in the top 5, coming in at 20.9%.

Heathrow Airport, UK

London’s primary airport is a sprawling complex. Its massive passenger volume, the highest passenger density compared to the other four airports on this list, is well-known for causing congestion, lengthy lines and the potential for delays.

How do you navigate these?

Flight Centre South Africa GM Antoinette Turner said airports like those in London and Istanbul highlighted the importance of understanding an airport’s layout and potential pain points before you arrived.

She said resources on airport websites and travel blogs could be invaluable to help you navigate them.

Turner said even the most chaotic airports could be managed with a few smart strategies:

Plan smart

This involves thinking about longer layovers as this gives you a buffer against delays and time to explore the airport at your own pace.

Turner said that researching transport options would also help you know how to get to and from the airport to avoid on-the-spot confusion. Consider pre-packing wisely and pack essentials like medication, a change of clothes and entertainment items in your carry-on.

Use technology to your advantage

Download the airport’s app for for real-time flight updates, interactive maps and even food ordering options.

Turner recommended the use of flight tracking apps to keep tabs on your flight status and potential delays so that you could make better decisions, and using mobile check-in as many airlines allowed you to check in online, saving precious time at the airport.

Embrace preparation

Know the airport’s rules and research security regulations and restrictions in order to avoid surprises at checkpoints. Pre-download your boarding pass and have it off-line and printed to avoid reliance on data or airport wi-fi.

“Arrive early as it’s still the golden rule of travel. Build ample buffer time for check-in, security and reaching your gate.”

Prioritise comfort

Wear comfortable shoes, dress in layers, pack snacks and water and bring something to keep you entertained.

“Ultimately, while some airports might be more challenging to navigate than others, the right mindset, preparation and tools will make a world of difference,” Turner said.