The number of people traveling by air increased significantly last year, undoubtedly driven by relaxed COVID-19 pandemic-related travel restrictions in the U.S.
Indeed, in 2021, the total number of global air passengers is estimated to have been around 4.5 billion, according to Airports Council International (ACI) World, the trade association of the world’s airports, which tracks global airport data. While that number is a 25 percent increase from the number of people traveling by air in 2020, it’s still down about 50 percent from the number of global air travelers in the pre-pandemic year 2019, ACI World reports.
This data comes from ACI World’s annual ranking of the top 10 busiest airports in the world. The numbers used in the tally represent total passengers enplaned and deplaned, with passengers in transit counted once, according to ACI World. In other words, it’s the number of people moving through an airport’s terminals.
“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 in a statement. “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.”
Interestingly, eight of the world’s 10 busiest airports for passenger traffic last year are in the U.S., while the other two are located in China. That’s a reversal from ACI World’s 2020 ranking, where seven of the 10 busiest airports for passenger traffic were in China and only three were in the U.S.
It’s important to note that China’s international borders remained closed in 2021. The country also maintained a zero-COVID-19 policy, which meant that COVID-19 outbreaks led to strict local travel restrictions and further lowered domestic demand for air travel, ACI World explains. Conversely, the demand for air travel in the U.S. in 2021 increased as pandemic-related travel restrictions were relaxed.
So, with that background in mind, here are the world’s 10 busiest airports.
1. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, Georgia
In 2020, for the first time in 22 years, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport wasn’t the busiest in the world. Instead, Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport in China had the most passenger traffic in 2020, ACI World reports.
Last year, however, Hartsfield-Jackson airport was — once again — the world’s busiest airport. That’s because in 2021, 75,704,760 passengers moved through its terminals. That’s a 76.4 percent increase in passenger traffic from 2020.
2. Dallas Fort Worth International, Texas
In 2021, 62,465,756 passengers moved through Dallas Fort Worth’s terminals. That number is a 58.7 percent increase from 2020, when Dallas Fort Worth was the fourth-busiest airport.
3. Denver International Airport, Colorado
Last year, 58,828,552 passengers moved through Denver International. Compared to 2020’s number of passengers, that’s a 74.4 percent increase.
4. Chicago O’Hare International Airport, Illinois
In 2021, 54,020,399 passengers moved through O’Hare, which is a 75.1 percent increase in passengers from 2020.
5. Los Angeles International Airport, California
Just over 48 million passengers moved through LAX’s terminals last year. While that number was up 66.8 percent from 2020’s tally, it’s still down 45 percent compared to the number of passengers in 2019.
6. Charlotte Douglas International Airport, North Carolina
Charlotte Douglas International experienced a 59.2 percent increase in passengers in 2021 as 43,302,230 passengers moved through its terminals.
Here’s what’s interesting about Charlotte Douglas’s ranking for 2021: The airport was only the 34th busiest airport in 2019.
7. Orlando International Airport, Florida
Somewhat surprisingly, Orlando International experienced a whopping 86.7 percent increase in passengers last year. In plain numbers, 40,351,068 air passengers used the airport in 2021.
Orlando International’s inclusion in the rankings this year is also noteworthy. Here’s why: This is the first time Orlando International Airport has been on ACI World’s list of 10 busiest airports, according to Reuters. In 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, Orlando International was the 31st busiest airport, according to ACI World’s data. Last year the airport was the 27th busiest.
8. Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport, China
In 2020, Guangzhou Baiyun was the world’s busiest airport because it had the most passenger traffic with 43,767,558 passengers, ACI World reports. Last year, however, that number dropped to 40,259,401 passengers, which was an 8 percent decrease.
9. Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport, China
In 2020, Chengdu Shuangliu was third on ACI World’s list of 10 busiest airports, logging 40,741,509 passengers. Like Guangzhou Baiyun, Chengdu Shuangliu also saw a drop in passengers last year.
In 2021, Chengdu Shuangliu had 40,117,496 passengers, which is a 1.5 percent decrease from 2020’s numbers.
10. Harry Reid International Airport, Las Vegas, Nevada
Like Orlando International and Charlotte Douglas International, Harry Reid International, formerly known as McCarran International Airport, saw a dramatic increase in passengers last year.
In 2021, Harry Reid International had 39,754,366 passengers, which is a staggering 78.6 percent increase over 2020’s number. What also must be pointed out is that in 2019, the airport was the world’s 30th busiest airport, and in 2020, it was the 22nd busiest airport.
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