North American Airports Ranked by 2018 World Cup Destinations Served

Denver International Airport recently tweeted the following, which I thought was brilliant marketing. The tweet capitalizes on the 2018 FIFA World Cup by asking followers to guess how many countries the airport serves via nonstop flights. It is topical, interactive and effectively highlights the international destinations served by the airport and got me thinking about how the largest airports in Canada and the US fare when it comes to World Cup destinations. 


  • I only selected the top 10 airports in the US and the top 8 airports in Canada based on annual passenger traffic. Data sourced from ACI's statistics for 2016
  • In determining whether the airport serves a destination via nonstop flights, I simply looked at their respective websites. The Canadian airports do a good job at this; the US airports not so much. Rather than looking up individual routes, I relied on the airport's Wikipedia page
  • Seasonal flights were included. For example, Air Canada's flight from Calgary to Tokyo-Narita is seasonal, but I have included it as a destination served by Calgary. 
  • Flights that currently operate but will be terminated soon were included. For example, Norwegian's flight to Las Vegas McCarran airport from Stockholm will be terminated later this year but I have still counted it as a destination served by LAS
  • There is a distinction between nonstop and direct flights. Nonstop means the aircraft will not make a stop between 2 points, whereas direct means the aircraft may make a stop between the 2 destinations. For example, Qantas' flight between NYC and Brisbane, Australia stops in Los Angeles. For the purposes of this exercise, however, I have treated nonstop and direct as the same
  • The ranking does not take into account capacity, frequency or number of cities served within a country and is based on a simple yes/no. For example, YVR serving 3 cities in Australia is treated the same as SFO serving 2 cities



Table 1 shows the ranking of airports by destinations served, whereas Table 2 is the flip side showing World Cup participating countries and number of airports serving them via nonstop flights. The tables and figures are interactive and allow you to sort the data by # of destinations, %, annual traffic etc. Things to note on the results:

  • JFK holds the top spot serving 27 out of the 32 countries participating in the 2018 World Cup
  • Despite being ranked #9 by annual traffic, YYZ is #2 by World Cup destinations. This means that either, 1) Toronto is an excellent hub for international traffic, or 2) the US airports rely heavily on domestic traffic to boost their annual numbers, or a combination of (1) and (2). Of course this assumes the World Cup participating countries are a good representation of, well, the World. Indeed, data from ACI shows that Toronto is the 2nd ranked airport in North America by international passenger traffic, second only to JFK
  • Montreal outranks Vancouver (5 vs 9) despite carrying almost 6 million fewer passengers. Vancouver is also outranked by Los Angeles and San Francisco despite all cities serving as gateways to the pacific
  • The world's busiest airport, Atlanta, drops to 6 serving less than half the countries via nonstop flights
  • Mexico is served by 100% of the airports in my list. This makes sense given its proximity to Canada and the US and it being a popular sun destination. England, too, is served by all airports thanks to massive hubs at Heathrow/Gatwick
  • Much has been made of Iceland's first appearance in the World Cup with its tiny population, but it is also served by 67% of the airports thanks to both Icelandair and WOW Air routing transatlantic traffic through Keflavik
  • 2 countries - Iran & Nigeria - are not served by any airport. North American traffic to these destinations is routed through European hubs 
  • There are 5 countries served by a single airport - Serbia (JFK), Croatia (YYZ), Tunisia (YUL), Uruguay (MIA) & Senegal (JFK) 

The sheet below shows all airports. Destinations that are served by a nonstop flight are indicated by an "x". 

I undertook this to see how many top airports serve the 32 World Cup countries with nonstop flights. I realize the limitation in my approach by not accounting for capacity or frequency, but this was merely a fun exercise in determining how "international" airports are. I was surprised (and proud) to see Toronto hold the second spot after JFK. It was also interesting to note the disparity between annual traffic and international traffic.