America is a big country. Outside of the Northeast, it can be hard to get to the next city over without taking a flight. That's why every year airlines carry over 600 million passengers across the skies of America, roughly equivalent to one round trip for every American.
So where are people going? And what places are important to them?
New York-Miami Rules The Skies
The route between New York and Miami is the most traveled of any domestic route. Nearly 7 million passengers made the trip in 2012.
Miami's allure as a destination and status as a gateway for international business make its relationship with America's premier city a particularly strong one, which reveals itself in the endless flow of travelers between the two cities.
People from the Northeast have access to the balmy paradise of Miami in just a few hours' time. If they're traveling to Latin America, there's a good chance they'll fly to Miami first, home to a massive American Airlines hub and where many Latin America flights depart from.
Meanwhile, Miami is a thriving cultural and commercial capital in its own right and serves as the North American base for many Latin American companies, giving business people ample reasons to head up to New York for meetings and deal making.
Wealth, Vegas, and Disney
If you want the essence of America's busiest air routes, these are it. Of the 10 busiest routes, traditional power centers like New York, Chicago, L.A., and San Francisco, as well as newer ones like Miami, feature prominently, reflecting the flows of money, power, and influence that run between these cities.
But rounding out the top 10 are two less obvious, though hardly surprising routes - L.A. to Las Vegas, and New York to Orlando, each carrying about three and a half million passengers a year. And while gambling and Magic Kingdom parades definitely belong on different ends of the vice to family-fun spectrum, the reasons for people flocking to these two cities are the same - to visit a kind of fantasy place, sometimes for a convention, but always for an escape.
Atlanta - America's Hub
Passenger volumes on America's air routes follow the tangled logic of the airline industry more than common sense. You might think the country's largest, most influential cities have the busiest airports - and this is true to an extent - but the busiest airport in the US is actually Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson airport.
Why? Part of this is due to the historical reason that Delta Airlines, now the world's largest airline, calls Atlanta home. But it's also because of Atlanta's location. While a city like New York gets a huge amount of passengers coming to town on the coast-to-coast routes and from around the Northeast and Florida, Atlanta ties together the eastern US, so people can get between the Midwest, the South, and the Atlantic seaboard.
Despite its southern location, Atlanta is relatively central to the East. In fact, according to Atlanta International Airport, 80% of the American population lives within a two hour flight from Atlanta. That makes it a great place for airlines to collect people from their home towns, and send them off to where they need to go.
Hawaii & Alaska - Air Travel as a Way of Life
America's two newest states both have big air travel markets. They're far from the US mainland, and hard to get around. In Hawaii, traveling between the islands really only makes sense by air; in Alaska, a gigantic state with forbidding weather and terrain that lacks roads between some cities, air travel can be the only way to go anywhere, sometimes in single propellar "bush" planes.
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