Next ranked Honolulu International Airport, which owes its high position on the list to location and links to major international hubs.
Researchers said that in the first 15 days of a pandemic outbreak, the amount of traffic at a U.S. airport would not necessarily correlate to the airport's influence in spreading the disease.
The Honolulu Airport sees less than a third of the traffic at New York's Kennedy Airport, for example, though the two ranked third and first on MIT's list, respectively. And the most highly trafficked U.S. airport — Atlanta's Hartsfield Jackson International — ranked eighth.
The mathematical model behind the rankings took into account airports' traffic, connectivity and geography, as well as factors like wait times for flights, MIT said.
Study authors said the effort moves contagion research forward by highlighting where U.S. health officials could focus attention immediately following an outbreak.
The list also calculates contagion-spread risk in a new way, researchers said, by assuming that travel patterns are logical, not arbitrary.
After Kennedy, Los Angeles and Honolulu, MIT concluded that the airports in San Francisco, Newark, Chicago (O'Hare) and Washington (Dulles) would be the next most influential in spreading a pandemic virus.
See an animated graphic of U.S. flight patterns from MIT.