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Confirmed: Atlanta reclaims ‘world’s busiest’ title as US airports dominate top 10 rankings

July 26, 2022
5 min read
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Confirmed: Atlanta reclaims ‘world’s busiest’ title as US airports dominate top 10 rankings
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Editor's note: This post has been updated include confirmation of the busiest airport numbers that were first released in April.

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 full-year numbers from Airports Council International. The group put out its final numbers on Monday, largely confirming the initial data set it released in April.

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For the full year, 75.7 million passengers flew through Atlanta. Last year’s No. 1 – China’s Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport (CAN) – slid all the way down to No. 8.

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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.

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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.

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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 Universal Orlando saw its flyer count surge 87% to 40.3 million – enough for it to rise 20 spots from the year prior and finish as the world’s seventh-busiest airport in 2021.

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

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.

“2021 represents the beginning of the aviation industry’s recovery," Luis Felipe de Oliveira – ACI World’s director general, said in a statement confirming the final numbers. "While some of the perennial busiest airport leaders have re-joined upper ranks, other regions struggle to recover leading to new entrants in the top 20. With many countries taking steps towards the return of a certain normality, lifting almost all the health measures and travel restrictions as supported by science, we welcome the continuation of air travel demand’s recovery in 2022, despite certain headwinds.”

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Scroll down for a full look at the top 10 busiest airports for 2021.

2021 rankAirport2021 passenger numbersChange vs. 2020Change vs. 20192020 rank2019 rank
1.Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL).75,704,760.76.4%.-31.5%.2.1.
2.Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW).62,465,756.58.7%.-16.8%.4.10.
3.Denver International Airport (DEN).58,828,552.74.4%.-14.8%.8.16.
4.O’Hare International Airport (ORD).54,020,399.75.1%.-36.2%.13.6.
5. Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).48,007,284.66.8%.-45.5%.15.3.
6.Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT).43,302,230.59.2%.-13.4%.18.34.
7.Orlando International Airport (MCO).40,351,068.86.7%.-20.3%.27.31.
8.Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport (CAN).40,259,401.-8%.-45.1%.1.11.
9.Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport (CTU).40,117,496.-1.5%.-28.2%.3.24.
10.Harry Reid International Airport (LAS).39,754,366.78.6%.-23.1%.22.30.
Featured image by Bloomberg via Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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