Atlanta is officially the world’s busiest airport again

The security screening line at Orlando International Airport in April 2022. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Atlanta is officially the world’s busiest airport again, reclaiming the crown after a pandemic-related shakeup upended the rankings in 2020.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) climbed back into the top spot for 2021 as its passenger count surged more than 76%, according to the initial full-year numbers out Monday from Airports Council International. For the full year, 75.7 million passengers flew through Atlanta.

The highest non-U.S. airport on the 2021 list was Guangzhou, which led the pack in 2020 and then dropped seven spots to No. 8 in 2021. China’s Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport (CTU) ranked ninth, the only other airport outside the United States to make the list this time around.

In a statement, Luis Felipe de Oliveira – ACI World’s director general – said the group’s latest rankings “tell the story of an encouraging trend of recovery, with most of the recurrent busiest airports pre-COVID-19 back at the top.”

“Although we are cautious that recovery could face multiple headwinds, the momentum created by reopening plans by countries could lead to an uptick in travel in the second half of 2022,” he added.

Overall, U.S. carriers dominated the rankings for 2021 – taking eight spots on ACI’s list of the top 10 busiest airports (full list below).

That marked a huge shakeup from rankings in 2020, when Chinese airports accounted for seven of the top 10 spots during the first full year to reflect COVID-19’s effect on air travel.

That came after China – where the COVID-19 crisis first emerged in late 2019 – saw its domestic travel market begin to recover later in 2020 while travel across the rest of the world collapsed as the pandemic took hold elsewhere.

But in 2021, U.S. passenger numbers roared back as Americans began to travel again en masse – especially on domestic itineraries. That propelled Atlanta and other U.S. airports back up the rankings and ahead of airports in other areas of the world – such as Europe – where demand was slower to recover.

For reference, in 2019, before the pandemic’s impacts on travel were largely to be felt, just four of the top 10 spots were held by U.S. airports.

More than 75 million passengers flew through Atlanta in 2021. That’s still a far cry from the 110.5 million counted there in 2019, but it was enough to reclaim the top spot for 2021. The airport recorded just 42.9 million passengers in 2020, when it ranked No. 2 behind Guangzhou.

Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) rose to No. 2 in the 2021 rankings, where passenger numbers jumped 59% to 62.5 million.

The biggest jump among large airports was at Orlando International Airport (MCO).

Buoyed by the strong and quick return of leisure demand in the U.S., the airport that’s nearest theme park juggernauts Disney World and Univeral Orlando saw its flyer count surge 87% to 40.3 million – enough for it to jump up 20 spots from the year prior and finish as the world’s seventh-busiest airport in 2021.


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