Skift Take

Although Heathrow is no longer the world's busiest international airport, these latest numbers show it still boasts remarkable connectivity.

If you’re feeling a little exhausted after the holiday season, spare a thought for the teams at Heathrow Airport. The London hub has just reported its busiest-ever December, even surpassing its pre-pandemic highs – a fact certain to delight its latest investors, as well as its new CEO.

The airport boasts links to more than 200 global destinations, but there are certain flights that do a lot of the heavy lifting. With 2023 in the rearview mirror, we now know the 24 routes that broke the million-passenger milestone last year. Spoiler alert: there are two new entries. 

The Headline Numbers

Before we dive into the route ranking, here are the big numbers you need to know. More than 6.6 million travelers passed through the airport in December alone, representing an average of 216,000 each day. 

December 22 was the busiest day of the season, with almost a quarter of a million passengers flying in or out. Even Christmas Day itself was steady, with 142,000 travelers onboard almost 800 flights, making it the busiest December 25 in Heathrow’s 78-year history. 

There was good news too for British Airways. The carrier’s home at Terminal 5 served 2.6 million passengers in December. This contributed towards the facility’s busiest ever year since opening in 2008, with more than 33 million travelers passing through its doors. 

All of this helped lift Heathrow’s annual total for 2023 to 79 million. A very welcome boost from the Covid-19 slump years, but still short of 2019 when 80.9 passengers used the airport.

The recent boom in transatlantic travel continued into December with 1.6 million passengers flying to and from North America. Services linking Heathrow with New York JFK carried the most traffic overall, further solidifying its status as one of the world’s busiest air routes. The bumper December also helped secure JFK’s place at the top of the annual ranking, with more than three million customers carried throughout the year.

Services to and from the United States represented six of the 24 routes that carried more than a million passengers last year. Los Angeles was in fifth place with Chicago, San Francisco, and Newark also in the exclusive club. Boston is one of two new entries for 2023, with the millionth traveler being recorded in December. The only other North American city to make the cut was Toronto, which was in 13th place.

What About Second and Third Place?

Heathrow’s enormous exposure to the Middle Eastern market delivered a podium finish for two major hubs. Dubai came in second place behind JFK, with the Qatari capital of Doha in third. Emirates alone operates six Airbus A380 superjumbos every day between Dubai and Heathrow, with British Airways also serving the route. Qatar Airways also has a huge presence at the London airport, with up to seven daily departures. Its oneworld alliance partner British Airways links the cities too, further boosting overall numbers.

Any Other Notable Entries? 

Despite Heathrow being the UK’s major air hub, only one domestic destination had more than a million passengers in 2023. Edinburgh in Scotland was the 21st most popular route overall, with no sign of other major British cities such as Glasgow, Manchester, or Belfast in the top chart. 

That’s not to say there wasn’t a fair amount of crisscrossing the Irish Sea. Dublin was the fourth busiest link for Heathrow last year, with Aer Lingus and British Airways enjoying a duopoly on the lucrative route. 

Alongside Boston, the only other new entry to the million-plus chart for 2023 was Geneva, which snuck in at 24th place. The Swiss city joined Zurich (15th) in the ranking. Geneva was boosted by strong demand for both business and year-round leisure traffic, with the airport boasting easy access to the Alps.

Other major European cities which made the list include Madrid (6th), Frankfurt (8th) and Munich (11th). Interestingly, Paris is way down the chart at 19th and Brussels is nowhere to be seen. This is partly due to the fast and frequent Eurostar rail service which links central London with Belgium and France in as little as two hours, making the prospect of the plane unattractive for many point-to-point travelers. 

Heathrow Airport’s busiest routes for 2023:

London Heathrow routes with more than a million passengers in 2023, descending from highest passenger volume

  1. New York, USA (JFK)
  2. Dubai, UAE (DXB)
  3. Doha, Qatar (DOH)
  4. Dublin, Ireland (DUB)
  5. Los Angeles, USA (LAX)
  6. Madrid, Spain (MAD)
  7. Amsterdam, Netherlands (AMS)
  8. Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
  9. Delhi, India (DEL)
  10. Istanbul, Türkiye (IST)
  11. Munich, Germany (MUC)
  12. Hong Kong, China (HKG)
  13. Toronto, Canada (YYZ)
  14. Singapore (SIN)
  15. Zurich, Switzerland (ZRH)
  16. Mumbai, India (BOM)
  17. Chicago, USA (ORD)
  18. San Francisco, USA (SFO)
  19. Paris, France (CDG)
  20. Newark, USA (EWR)
  21. Edinburgh, UK (EDI)
  22. Lisbon, Portugal (LIS)
  23. Boston, USA (BOS)
  24. Geneva, Switzerland (GVA)
    Source: Heathrow Airport
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Tags: airlines, airports, british airways, heathrow, london

Photo credit: Heathrow Airports Limited Heathrow Airports Limited / Heathrow Airports Limited

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