In the interactive graphic above, select a US metro area to see its fastest growing and shrinking international routes between 2003 and 2011.
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Last year, 163.7 million flights originated or ended in the US, where international air travel has more than doubled since 1990, according to a new report by the Brookings Institution. And a closer examination of those flights paints a picture of changing trends in global business, leisure, and family ties.
Passenger loads have grown rapidly over the past eight years between the US and some of the world’s fastest-growing economies: China (144% growth), Brazil (136%), India (89%), and Russia (42%).
Overall, the top three sources of traffic in and out of the US last year reflect business, pleasure, and proximity: London (9.2 million trips), Toronto (6.9 million), and Cancun (4.9 million). Grouped by region, most passengers were still headed to or from Latin America and the Caribbean (33%) followed by Western Europe (27%).
The interactive above focuses on routes that are growing and shrinking fastest, revealing trends that have emerged in the past eight years. The data are drawn from the 5,000 most travelled routes that had at least 1,000 passengers (or about three jumbo jets) in 2003.
Here are last year’s ten most popular airline routes—overall—between US metro areas and international cities:
The study examined origins and final destinations points of international flight routes, so connections don’t distort the data.
Flight patterns can tell a story — for instance, along the single most heavily-trafficked route between New York and London. Adi Tomer, one author of the report, says the load “speaks to cultural connections, but it’s also the world’s two biggest financial markets connecting—two places with high levels of financial services are going to link up.”
Other stories emerge from growing ties between oil cities like Tulsa and Calgary; or Houston and Lagos. Immigration matters, too: New York’s huge Dominican population makes New York-DR routes the sixth and twelfth most heavily traveled, while the Korean population of Los Angeles puts LA-Seoul at number seven.
And rising living standards drive travel, too. “As emerging markets keep growing, their middle classes are just swelling,” says Tomer. “Even a tiny change in percent middle class in China leads to millions and millions of more people who could travel.”
Those most heavily trafficked airports need more infrastructure investment, Brookings argues, noting that although 96% of international passengers pass through their airports, the 100 biggest metro areas receive just 36% of federal airport infrastructure funds. —Theresa Bradley