Atlanta Regains Title As World’s Busiest Airport

ATL is one of the eight US airports that feature in the list of the globe's top 10 busiest airports.

Credit: Getty Images/BanksPhotos

Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson (ATL) has reclaimed its position as the busiest airport in the world, returning to the summit after handling more than 75 million passengers during 2021.

The US airport was knocked off the number one spot in 2020 by Guangzhou Baiyun International (CAN) in China, ending its 22-year run at the top.

However, the rankings published by ACI World show that the Georgia airport recorded a 76.4% increase in passenger numbers last year when compared with the previous 12 months, fueled by a resurgent domestic market in the US.

In total, Atlanta handled 75.7 million passengers in 2021, followed by Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) in second with 62.5 million and Denver (DEN) with 58.8 million completed an all-US top three. Guangzhou slipped to eighth as passenger numbers dropped by 8% to 40.3 million.

“The ACI World passenger traffic rankings tell the story of an encouraging trend of recovery, with most of the recurrent busiest airports pre-COVID-19 back at the top,” ACI World director general Luis Felipe de Oliveira said.

“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.”

Total global passengers in 2021 is estimated to be close to 4.5 billion, representing an increase of almost 25% from 2020, or a drop of more than 50% from 2019 results.

ACI World’s research found that passenger traffic at the top 10 busiest airports amounted to 463 million passengers, collectively representing almost 10% of global traffic.

Eight of the top 10 airports for passenger traffic are in the US, with the remaining two in China. All top 10 airports have a significant share of domestic traffic—the segment that has been leading global recovery.

The biggest improvement recorded was from Orlando (MCO), which saw the number of passengers jump to 40.4 million in 2021, up by 86.7% on 2020, thanks to Florida’s leisure appeal. 

ACI World also estimated that there were more than 69 million global aircraft movements in 2021, representing a gain of more than 12% from 2020. The top 10 airports represent close to 8% of global traffic (5.3 million movements) and experienced a gain of 33.9% year-over-year, but still representing a drop of 16.1% compared with 2019.

In terms of cargo, Hong Kong (HKG) took top spot with 5 million metric tonnes, up by 12.5% on 2020. Memphis (MEM) was second with 4.5 million metric tonnes, followed by Shanghai Pudong (PVG) in third with 4 million.

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