World’s busiest airports in 2021: Atlanta reclaims title

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(CNN) – Move up, Guangzhou. Georgia’s Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport has once again become the busiest airport in the world.

The US airport was knocked out of its No. 1 perch No. 2 slot Breaking the 22-year-old streak of Atlanta Airport in the top slot in the volume of passengers by China’s Guangzhou Bayyun International Airport in 2020.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport was still the world’s busiest passenger airport in 2019. But the epidemic is hitting global air traffic hard in 2020.

But in the 2021 rankings released Monday by the trade association Airports Council International, ATL is at the top again, a sign of recovery from the sharp dip in 2020 air traffic since the epidemic hit.

In 2021, Atlanta Airport saw 75.7 million passengers. That figure is as high as 76% from 2020 but still about 32% lower than the pre-2019 epidemic figure.

Guangzhou’s airport ranked 8th in 2021 with 40.3 million passengers. Another Chinese airport, Chengdu’s Shuangliu International Airport, ranks ninth on the 2021 list, down from No. 3 in 2020.

U.S. airports dominated the passenger traffic rankings in 2021, with eight of the top 10 in the United States.

Dallas / Fort Worth International Airport in Texas was the second busiest with 62.5 million passengers in 2021, and Denver, Colorado International Airport was the third busiest with 58.8 million passengers.

Chicago’s O’Hare and Los Angeles International ranked in the top five.

The list “shows an encouraging trend of recovery,” ACI World Director General Luis Felipe de Oliveira said in a statement.

“While we are aware that the recovery could face multiple headwinds, the momentum created by the reopening plans by countries could lead to an increase in travel in the second half of 2022,” de Oliveira said.

According to ACI, there were an estimated 4.5 billion passengers globally in 2021. That figure shows an increase of about 25% from 2020 but a decrease of more than 50% from 2019.

Baiyun International Airport in Guangzhou, China has surpassed Atlanta International Airport as the world's busiest airport in 2020.  In 2021, Guangzhou Airport came to No. 8.

Baiyun International Airport in Guangzhou, China has surpassed Atlanta International Airport as the world’s busiest airport in 2020. In 2021, Guangzhou Airport came to No. 8.

Tian Jianchuan / Xinhua / Zuma Press

The US and China are changing locations

Airports before pre-Pandic have jumped into the top 10 in the list of the world’s busiest airports, given the very fast recovery of domestic travel compared to international travel.

Airport in Charlotte, North Carolina (No. 6); Orlando, Florida (No. 7); And Las Vegas (No. 10) is new to the top 10 this year. Vacation magnets Orlando and Las Vegas were number 31 and number 30 for passenger traffic before the epidemic in 2019.

The strong performance of the United States in the top 10 is in stark contrast to 2020, when Chinese airports took seven slots out of the top 10.

China’s dominance in 2020 was due to the early recovery of domestic travel in China. The country has not yet reopened to international visitors.

“If we look back to 2020, China was one of the first countries to emerge from the initial wave of epidemics and reached almost complete recovery by the end of 2020,” said Patrick Lucas, vice president of economics at ACI World.

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But in 2021, with renewed lockdowns, domestic traffic in China dropped significantly, while the United States saw a sharp rise.

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The United States has the world’s largest domestic travel market, followed by China.

Airports that regularly top the list of the world’s busiest airports, such as Dubai International, London Heathrow and Paris Charles de Gaulle, have been absent during the epidemic.

“Markets that had very high levels of international traffic were definitely affected as a result of all these restrictions and quarantine requirements,” Lucas said.

The important role of international traffic is also part of the reason why Beijing’s capital and Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport dropped out of the top 10. Beijing Capital – once the No. 2 regular in passenger traffic – is also splitting its traffic. The city’s new Dexing International Airport.

Dubai International Airport, which accounts for the bulk of international traffic, dropped out of the top 10 busiest airports in 2021.  However, in 2021 it remained No. 1 for international travelers.

Dubai International Airport, which accounts for the bulk of international traffic, dropped out of the top 10 busiest airports in 2021. However, in 2021 it remained No. 1 for international travelers.

Elena / Adobe stock

Restrictions returned

Lucas said the ACI was advocating a “risk-oriented approach” to ease travel restrictions following the Covid-19 data.

“Vaccines are actually a passport to travel, but now we can see that a lot of big markets are opening up and … a lot of countries are realizing that restricting or banning travel really doesn’t do anything.” Said.

“If anything, it does more harm than good. It means it hinders the socio-economic benefits of air transport and tourism.”

As such, total passenger traffic numbers in ACI 2024 are expected to recover to pre-epidemic levels.

However, strong domestic markets, including the United States, are expected to recover by 2023. And markets with high levels of international traffic are not expected to recover by 2025, Lucas said.

Globally, “different forces are moving in opposite directions.”

Lucas said there is strong demand and that restrictions on travel have been lifted in response to rising travel costs and geopolitical concerns about what is happening in Eastern Europe.

But overall, ACI is excited. “We realize that despite the increase in travel costs, consumers, passengers, will be stung by bullets.”

Heartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport says it is within a two-hour flight of 80% of the US population.

Heartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport says it is within a two-hour flight of 80% of the US population.

Elijah Novellage / Reuters

Top 10 busiest airports in the world for passenger traffic in 2021

1. Atlanta (ATL): 75.7 million passengers, 76% more by 2020

2. Dallas / Fort Worth (DFW): 62.5 million passengers, 59% more by 2020

3. Denver (DEN): 58.8 million passengers, 74% more by 2020

4. Chicago O’Hare (ORD): 54 million passengers, 75% more by 2020

5. Los Angeles (LAX): 48 million passengers, 67% more by 2020

6. Charlotte (CLT): 43.3 million passengers, 59% more by 2020

7. Orlando (MCO): 40.4 million passengers, 87% more by 2020

8. Guangzhou (CAN): 40.3 million passengers, down 8% from 2020

9. Chengdu (CTU): 40.1 million passengers, down 1.5% from 2020

10. Las Vegas (LAS): 39.8 million passengers, 79% more by 2020

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