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I want to know if it's possible to predict how busy an airport will be at a given day or part of day.

I know there are services that provide the scheduled flights in an airport

  • Is there also an API that allows programmatically accessing this data (preferably for free)
  • How far in advance are the flights scheduled and the data published?

The distribution between 'regular' passengers and 'connecting' passengers is also important (a passenger during a connection has a much lower effect) - it the data of how many passengers in a flight taking a connection available? (even long term statistics)

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    $\begingroup$ I think you need to be more specific as to just what you mean by "busy". Do you mean planes (not all of which are commercial flights) taking off & landing? Or do you mean passengers in the terminal building(s)? Or what? $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Sep 15 '18 at 17:58
  • $\begingroup$ bottom line - how long you have to wait - but this is probably impractical. I assume the number of planes leaving \ arriving on a certain time is a good proxy for how busy the airport is $\endgroup$ – Ophir Yoktan Sep 15 '18 at 20:33
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    $\begingroup$ This also depends on "how long you have to wait" for what? Check-in? Security? And which country, etc. In the U.S., Pre-Check can dramatically shorten (or eliminate) time spent in security lines. Having status with an airline or alliance can shorten time spent at check-in. $\endgroup$ – Dan1701 Sep 15 '18 at 22:30
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This is a bit of a different approach than you were thinking, but Google estimates how relatively busy a place is based on location data:

google busyness graph for SFO

This can be found in the right-side bar if you search for an airport code or many other locations. It's based on their location data, not flight schedules.

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Airline dispatchers have that data; I've sometimes gotten info like "destination has 22 aircraft arriving in the 17Z hour (i.e. 1700Z thru 1759Z), with an acceptance rate of 33, so there should be no delays."

If or where this info is available to the public, I don't know. Maybe one of our resident ATC's can add that piece to the puzzle.

This is all about aircraft movements, not passengers, so it isn't necessarily representative of how busy the terminal will be... the tarmac is equally busy whether the 22 airplanes are empty or full.

The "passenger terminal" side of the question would be better suited for Travel.SE than here; I think the Google plot in the other answer is an excellent resource for that aspect.

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  • $\begingroup$ I don't see how this is predictable, in general. At larger airports where traffic is in practice limited to scheduled commercial flights, sure, but at many airports the majority of takeoffs & landings are unscheduled private & military planes. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Sep 16 '18 at 17:26
  • $\begingroup$ No, not perfectly predictable, but imperfect data can still be quite useful compared to no data. For military & Part 91 flying, averages can be useful predictors. And as you note, airline dispatchers care most about the numbers for busy hubs. I don't know to what extent such data is or isn't available for "Podunk Regional" with 8 airlines flights per day. But airline arrivals at such fields aren't really disrupted by local traffic doing touch and go's. $\endgroup$ – Ralph J Sep 16 '18 at 17:41
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    $\begingroup$ This information is available to the public for many airports in the US and Canada through the Airport Arrival Demand Chart. It can be useful in understanding flight delays if the arrival rate drops (such as due to weather) and a ground delay program is used to hold flights back, but since it's arrivals only, doesn't care how many people are on board each aircraft, and departing passengers arrive on time even for delayed flights, I can't see it being particularly helpful for estimating the wait at places like check-in and security lines. $\endgroup$ – Zach Lipton Sep 16 '18 at 18:09
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I believe the business of an airport may be measured with ordinary queue theory. Googling around I found this thesis that may answer to your question.

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