Revealed: these airports were the busiest in the world in 2021

As travel returns across the globe, so are those dreaded terminal queues

Sophie Dickinson
Written by
Sophie Dickinson
Freelance contributor
Busy airport
Photograph: Marius Dobilas /

With borders opening up around the world, a lot of us are hitting up the airport again. And while that can often be a less-than-pleasant experience – see the delays and cancellations piling up in the UK – some places are much, much worse than others. 

This new study from the Airports Council International has ranked the busiest airports around the world last year. And the top offender? That would be Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, which saw 75 million passengers pass through its gates in 2021. This is still markedly down on 2019, which was 32 percent busier.

The USA is noticeably one of the more hectic locations, taking up eight of the top ten spots on the list. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport is in second place with 62 million passengers, followed by Denver International Airport (58 million), Chicagos O’Hare International Airport (54 million) and Los Angeles International Airport (48 million). 

Airports in China take the eighth and ninth spots. Guangzhou Bai Yun International Airport, which was number one last year, saw an 8 percent reduction in traffic year-on-year, with 40.2 million passengers recorded in 2021. And Chengdu Shuangliu International, meanwhile, recorded 40.1 million. 

Dubai airport has the most international travellers – 29 million overseas visitors used its terminals in 2021. Next up is Istanbul (26 million), with Amsterdam taking third place (24 million). While the figures sound impressive, every airport reported a reduction in passengers compared to 2019 (no surprises there!)

Here are the ten busiest airports in the world:

  1. Atlanta, Georgia, USA (ATL) – 75,704,760 passengers
  2. Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, USA (DFW) – 62,465,756 passengers
  3. Denver, Colorado, USA (DEN) – 58,828,552 passengers
  4. Chicago, Illinois, USA (ORD) –  54,020,399 passengers
  5. Los Angeles, California, USA (LAX) – 48,007,284 passengers 
  6. Charlotte, North Carolina, USA (CLT) – 43,302,230 passengers
  7. Orlando, Florida, USA (MCO) –  40,351,068 passengers
  8. Guangzhou, China (CAN) – 40,259,401 passengers 
  9. Chengdu, China (CTU) – 40,117,496 passengers
  10. Las Vegas, Nevada, USA (LAS) –  39,754,366 passengers

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