Hartsfield-Jackson Reclaims Title as World's Busiest Airport


ATLANTA — Hartsfield-Jackson International is again the world's busiest airport, reclaiming the title Atlanta lost when traffic plummeted during the pandemic.

The Atlanta airport reported more than 75 million passengers in 2021, a far cry from pre-pandemic levels that topped 100 million a year. But other airports around the world are also still recovering.

Last year, Atlanta handled the most passengers and the most flights of any airport in the world, according to the official rankings released Monday from Airports Council International.

Hartsfield-Jackson reclaimed the title after an airport in China, Guanzhou Bai Yun International Airport, took the No. 1 spot in 2020. China staged an initial pandemic recovery earlier than the rest of the world, but some cities, such as Shanghai, have reinstated tight restrictions and lockdowns.

Air travel is a key economic barometer not only for Atlanta but for the world economy.

The rankings for 2021 "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 in a written statement.

Hartsfield-Jackson's passenger counts in 2021 were up 76.4% from 2020, but still down nearly one-third from 2019. Since the retreat of the omicron variant earlier this year, domestic traffic has been nearing pre-pandemic levels.

"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," de Oliveira said.

In the No. 2 spot for passenger traffic behind Atlanta was Dallas/Fort Worth with 62.5 million passengers, jumping up from No. 4 in 2020 and the No. 10 in 2019.

Denver International Airport came in third in 2021. Chicago O'Hare came in fourth with 54 million passengers.

Globally, about 4.5 billion passengers flew by air in 2021, up nearly 25% from 2020 but still just half of 2019 levels, according to Airports Council International.

With leisure travel recovering the quickest, Orlando International Airport had the biggest improvement in passenger traffic in the world, with an 86.7% year-over-year increase to 40.4 million passengers, putting it in the No. 7 spot in 2021.

Hartsfield-Jackson reported 707,661 landings and take-offs in 2021, up 29.1% for 2020 but still down 21.7% from 2019.

Atlanta had been displaced in past years by Chicago O'Hare in the No. 1 spot for flight counts, but Atlanta had the most flights in 2020 and 2021.