Atlanta airport regains its title as world’s busiest in 2021

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

The American airport was dropped from perch No. 1 to No. 2 slot in passenger volume in 2020 by China’s Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport, breaking the 22-year-old Atlanta airport streak in first place.

But in the 2021 rankings released Monday by the Federation of International Airports, ATL is back on top, in a sign of recovery from the sharp fall in 2020 in air traffic as the pandemic spreads.

In 2021, Atlanta Airport saw 75.7 million passengers. This number is 76% higher than in 2020 but still approximately 32% lower than the pre-pandemic 2019 figures.

Guangzhou Airport dropped to No. 8 in 2021, with 40.3 million passengers. Another airport in China, Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport, ranks 9th in the 2021 list, up from 3 in 2020.

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

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

Chicago’s O’Hare and Los Angeles International rounded out the top five.

Luis Filipe de Oliveira, general manager of ACI World, said in a statement that the list shows an “encouraging trend for recovery.”

“Although we are cautious that the recovery could face several headwinds, the momentum generated by the reopening of plans by countries could lead to an increase in travel in the second half of 2022,” de Oliveira said.

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In 2021, there were an estimated 4.5 billion passengers worldwide, according to the ACI. This number is about 25% more than in 2020, but down more than 50% from 2019.

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

Tian Jianchuan / Xinhua / Zuma Press

The United States and China switch places

Given the much faster recovery of domestic travel than international travel, airports that were at the bottom of the list of the world’s busiest before the pandemic have jumped into the top ten.

Airports in Charlotte, North Carolina (No. 6); Orlando, Florida (No. 7); And Las Vegas (No. 10) freshened up in the top ten this year. Orlando and Las Vegas vacation magnets were 31st and 30th for passenger traffic before the pandemic in 2019.

The strong performance of the United States in the top ten is a reflection of 2020, when airports in China took seven of the top ten.

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

“Looking back to 2020, China was one of the first countries to emerge from the initial waves of the epidemic, and has already reached full recovery by the end of 2020,” said Patrick Lucas, ACI World Vice President for Economics.

But in 2021, domestic traffic in China fell dramatically as lockdowns renewed, while the United States saw a big jump.

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

Airports that routinely land in the list of the world’s 10 busiest airports – such as Dubai International, London Heathrow and Paris Charles de Gaulle – have been absent during the pandemic.

“Those markets that have had very high rates of international traffic have of course been hit by all these restrictions and quarantine requirements,” Lucas said.

The important role of international traffic is also part of the reason why Beijing Capital Airport and Shanghai Pudong International Airport are out of the top 10. The city’s new Daxing International Airport.

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

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

Elena / Adobe Stock

Undo restrictions

Lucas said the ACI is calling for a “risk-based approach” to ease travel restrictions, following the Covid-19 data.

“Vaccines have in fact been the passport, but as we see now, many major markets are opening up and … a lot of countries have realized that curbing travel or imposing travel restrictions is actually doing nothing,” she said.

“If anything, it does more damage. Meaning it disrupts the social and economic gains of air transport, tourism and so on.”

As it stands, the ACI expects total traveler numbers to recover to pre-pandemic levels in 2024.

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

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

Lucas said there is very strong pent-up demand and the lifting of restrictions that has reduced travel in exchange for the high cost of travel and geopolitical concerns about what is happening in Eastern Europe.

But overall, ACI is optimistic. “We have a feeling that consumers and passengers are going to bite the bullet, so to speak, despite the high cost of travel.”

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

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

Ilya Novell / Reuters

The world’s 10 busiest airports for passenger traffic in 2021

1. Atlanta (ATL): 75.7 million passengers, up 76% from 2020

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

3 – Denver (Denver): 58.8 million passengers, up 74% from 2020

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

5. Los Angeles (LAX): 48 million passengers, up 67% from 2020

6. Charlotte (CLT): 43.3 million passengers, up 59% from 2020

7. Orlando (MCO): 40.4 million passengers, an increase of 87% over 2020

8. Guangzhou (Canada): 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, up 79% from 2020

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