LAX is not really the nation’s third-busiest airport

What’s really the third-largest airport in the United States?

If you believe its press releases, Los Angeles International Airport is No. 3 – behind only Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Chicago O’Hare International Airport. To give itself this lofty status, LAX focuses on the number of passengers it serves, about 64 million in 2012.

But that’s not necessarily the metric used by the industry. Airports Council International has its own list of the busiest airports in the United States, and Los Angeles is No. 5.

The Airports Council tracks aircraft movements – or the total number takeoffs and landings. LAX had 605,480 of those in 2012.

The Chicago Tribune had a big story this week on how O’Hare was poised to take over from Hartsfield to once again be the busiest airport in the United States. That article suggested that aircraft movements is the important figure – not passengers.

So it’s probably more accurate to call LAX the fifth-busiest airport in the United States. Here are the top five, with their 2012 movement numbers.

ATLANTA            930 250

CHICAGO            878,108

DALLAS               650,124

DENVER               612,557

LOS ANGELES    605,480

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