It’s no secret that some of the largest cities in the world have more than one airport serving their population. This applies to the major Japanese city of Osaka, which is served by the airports of Kansai (KIX) and Itami (ITM). So which airport is better for passengers? Let’s look at the two and compare what they have to offer.
While Itami Airport is closer to the city center, it primarily caters to domestic flights by Japan Airlines and ANA. Kansai International is the main international hub for the region, serving over three dozen airlines and 17 international cities.
Where Kansai and Itami Airports are located
Kansai International Airport (KIX) is located 45km south of the city of Osaka, situated on a manmade island, purpose-built for the airport. Itami Airport, also known as Osaka International Airport (ITM), is much closer to the city center, just 20km north.
If traveling by private car, it will likely take under half an hour to get to Itami from Osaka’s city center, a quick and easy journey for most. Getting to Kansai by car will take at least 40 minutes, if not longer, given the distance of over 50 kilometers.
Alternately, when taking public transit, Kansai is well connected and can be accessed with one train that takes just over 50 minutes. Itami Airport is served by a limousine bus that takes 40 minutes. A combination of three different trains will also get you to the airport.
If we are looking at the distance from Osaka’s city center alone, then Itami would be the winning airport. In fact, if you’re coming from Kyoto and looking to fly, then the airport is even better! However, the destinations that this airport offers leaves much to be desired…
While Itami somehow secured the name ‘Osaka International Airport,’ the airport currently only takes travelers to domestic destinations. It does offer a strong network, with flights to both Tokyo Narita and Haneda, Sapporo, Fukuoka, Sendai, and many more. Japan Airlines, ANA, and their subsidiary airlines dominate the airport, as one might expect. Ibex Airlines, another local carrier, also flies out of Itami.
However, don’t think Itami isn’t bustling. In 2019, the airport saw 15.75 million passengers, a massive number for a facility that only processes domestic travelers. However, it is important to remember that Japan is the third-largest domestic market in the world, which explains the airport’s popularity. While COVID has affected these numbers, the airport saw 7.5 million travelers last year, and 5.8 million in 2020.
The real hub for Osaka, and the region at large, is Kansai International Airport. The purpose-built island airport catered to 28.7 million passengers in 2019, with connections to the US with United, Australia with Qantas, and globally with hub airlines like Emirates. This is in addition to an array of Asian airlines that fly daily and more to neighboring countries.
However, COVID has been hard on the airport, with traffic falling to 2.2 million in 2020 and 3.6 million last year. This means it fell below Itami for both years, but as Japan reopens to foreign travelers once more, we can expect Kansai’s traffic to quickly increase. However, pre-COVID levels could still be far away.
According to the airport’s website, Itami actually has an impressive array of shops and restaurants. The airport offers numerous options for fine dining and fast food. There’s even a convenience store. Itami also has a free observation deck as well as a very basic pay-per-use lounge. Both JAL and ANA also have their own lounges at the airport.
Kansai Airport has many of the same shops and services as Itami but on a much larger scale. The airport’s SkyView Observation Hall is an extremely impressive facility that planespotters would love.
Kansai Airport has far more lounges to match its international scale and diversity. Korean Air, ANA, and JAL all have exclusive lounges at Kansai, along with some pay-per-use facilities as well.
So which airport is better for passengers?
The answer is relatively straightforward and is primarily dictated by the type of trip you are making. If you are flying domestically, then Itami is the way to go – especially if you’re coming from or heading to Kyoto. The airport’s location is probably its best asset.
On the other hand, if you are flying internationally, then Kansai will be your only option in the area. However, despite its long distance from Osaka (and Kyoto and Kobe), Japan’s extensive rail network will get you where you need to go. It might just take a little longer.
Have you been to these two airports before? Share your experience with us in the comments.