New Study Reveals 10 Busiest Airports In the World

Rankings are encouraging signs of continued recovery, trade group Airports Council International says.

Runways and the Control Tower at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. [File Photo: Shutterstock]

As a growing number of people push ahead with travel plans, airliner seats are filling up and airports are getting busier. And while traffic has not returned to pre-pandemic levels, the crowded, bustling atmosphere in many terminals is beginning to feel like it did a few years ago.

With the travel recovery gaining momentum, conversation has turned to passenger traffic, which the Airports Council International, an airport trade association, estimated was around 4.5 billion globally in 2021, or about 25 percent higher than the year before but still 50 percent lower than in 2019.

The trade group released its annual list of the 10 busiest airports Monday:

10 Busiest Airports, By Domestic Passengers

RankAirport2021 Passengers% Change vs. 2020% Change v.s. 2019
1.Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (KATL)75,704,76076.4-31.5
2.Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (KDFW)62,465,75658.7-16.8
3.Denver International Airport (KDEN)58,828,55274.4-14.8
4.O'Hare International Airport, Chicago (KORD)54,020,39975.1-36.2
5.Los Angeles International Airport (KLAX)48,007,28466.8-45.5
6.Charlotte Douglas International Airport (KCLT)43,302,23059.2-13.4
7.Orlando International Airport (KMCO)40,351,06886.7-20.3
8.Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport, Guangzhou, China (CAN)40,259,401-8.0-45.1
9.Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport, Chengdu, China (CTU)40,117, 496-1.5-28.2
10.Harry Reid International Airport, Las Vegas (LAS)39,754,36678.6-23.1
* Total passengers enplaned and deplaned, passengers in transit counted once

Traffic rose about 52 percent compared with 2020 and fell 29 percent compared with 2019. Many airports that were busiest before the pandemic have again risen to the top of the rankings.

Eight of the top 10 airports for passengers are in the U.S. and two are in China. All of the top 10 have large shares of domestic traffic, which is the segment leading the industry’s worldwide recovery, the ACI said.

The latest airport rankings “tell the story of an encouraging trend of recovery, with most of the recurrent busiest airports pre-Covid-19 back at the top,” said ACI World Director General Luis Felipe de Oliveira.

Cargo Leaders

The ACI said volume for air cargo, which was less adversely affected by the pandemic, rose nearly 15 percent to an estimated record of 124 million metric tons in 2021. The trade group attributed the rise to increased demand for consumer goods ordered online and pharmaceutical products.

The top three airports for cargo traffic in 2021 were Hong Kong International (HKG) with 5 million metric tons, Memphis International (KMEM) with 4.5 million metric tons, and Shanghai Pudong International with 4 metric tons.

Jonathan Welsh is a private pilot who worked as a reporter, editor and columnist with the Wall Street Journal for 21 years, mostly covering the auto industry. His passion for aviation began in childhood with balsa-wood gliders his aunt would buy for him at the corner store. Follow Jonathan on Twitter @JonathanWelsh4

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