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Move over LAX and JFK, Atlanta is the busiest airport in the world

The international airport put 75.7 million people onto planes in 2021

Erika Mailman
Written by
Erika Mailman

Atlanta’s got it all: the walking dead, invasive giant lizards — and the flying millions. The Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport successfully shuffled 75.7 million passengers in 2021, making it the world’s busiest airport, as reported by CNN.

That’s just normal for Atlanta, though. It held the title for 22 years straight, losing it temporarily in 2020 to the Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport in China, but coming right back to grab the trophy.

Although moving 75.7 million passengers a year sounds like a lot—that’s 206,000 people a day—it’s still 32 percent lower than pre-Covid numbers, according to the Airports Council International. It does, however, represent an enormous jump of 76 percent from 2020’s stalled airline travel.

Guangzhou fell from number 1 to number eight. Dallas/Fort Worth slid right into second place, while Denver took third, followed by Chicago O’Hare; Los Angeles; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Orlando, Florida, in that order. The next American hub was Las Vegas in tenth position. Orlando and Las Vegas both did well with bringing vacationers through its portal; in 2019 they had been dwelling much farther down the list, at numbers 31 and 30 respectively.

The US has done so well in its passenger traffic in part due to less stringent regulations than some other nations' airlines. And yesterday's news illustrates that. A federal judge in Florida struck down the federal mask mandate for airports, airplanes and all forms of public transportation, and the Biden administration said that TSA would no longer enforce masking. Airlines responded with different messaging, some celebratory and some cautionary, warning that travelers should still carry a mask if traveling to international destinations where it may still be required.

The airports council indicates that last year there were 4.5 billion passengers worldwide, roughly a 25 percent uptick from the pandemic year, but more than a 50 percent drop from 2019. The Covid-19 vaccine rollout made more people willing to fly, although in China renewed lockdowns affected airline numbers. According to CNN, China’s busy airports of Guangzhou and Chengdu did brisk business in 2020 because of the early rebound of domestic travel. But China is still not open to international visitors.

Based on analysis of this data and advocating a risk-based approach for travel, the ACI believes that international air travel should be completely back to its old robust numbers in 2024. The US will recover its domestic traffic in 2023, while some markets with a lot of international travel may not return to normalcy until 2025. Besides continuing concern over safe travel during a pandemics, airport business is also affected by worry over the war now raging in Ukraine. 

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