Within a little over a month I have been to the two busiest Airports (in passenger numbers) in the world:
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (KATL) had a total of 92,365,860 passengers traveling through its halls in 2011. Beijing Capital International Airport (ZBAA) had 77,403,668. Both are modern, vast and intimidating, but there are distinct differences.
PEK entered the top 30 list of the busiest airports of place 26 in the year 2002. 27,159,665 passengers walked its shiny floors that year.
Atlanta was the undisputed number 1 in all of these years and went from 76 million in 2002 to the afore mentioned 92 million in the same time it took Beijing to grow from 27 million to 77 million.
The difference in growth rate can be felt in the air of the airports. Atlanta has been hugh for 30 years. It was completely rebuilt in the 70s and designed for it’s current size.
The terminal with its individual annexes is located in the middle between two parallel runway sets. At the time, this design was groundbreaking. The ways in Atlanta are long but for the size of the complex, the traveling time within the airport is reasonable. The ways for the aircraft are efficient and it is easy for the passengers to navigate.
KATL is busy and at times crazy but it also feels like a well running machine. Nothing can bring it to a stop, everything has happened before, there is a routine in handling non routine situations, in handling large numbers of passengers and in dealing with the needs and whereabouts of travelers from all cultures and all time zones. It is one of the more cosmopolitan places in the United States.
Beijing is different. The predominant feeling is pace, development and growth. Everything is brand spanking new, almost not broken in yet.
The airport radiates national pride but there is also a clear need to demonstrate it. It is build to impress and it is a world of contrasts. Futuristic materials and sparkling surfaces that are being shined with bamboo brooms that have been used in China for a thousand years.
What would be confident routine in Atlanta is excited, almost playful pride in Beijing. Traveling through it is invigorating, a promise of am amazing future.
To be continued…
(originally posted on January 18, 2013 by tilbo at aloft.blog.com/worlds-busiest-airports/)