The worldwide coronavirus pandemic has had disastrous effects on the global aviation industry. As dozens of international borders closed in 2020 and flights were booked at a fraction of their usual capacity, airports were largely deserted. The airlines that remained in operation were mostly cargo and freight carriers. (Here are airlines that went out of business in 2021.)
Air traffic began picking up in 2021 as lockdowns ended, yet flights were nowhere near as numerous as in pre-pandemic years. Estimated global passenger count for 2021 is estimated to have been 4.5 billion – an increase of nearly 25% from 2020, but a decrease of 50% from 2019.
However, as this summer approaches, airports are starting to see traffic increase further.
To determine the 10 busiest airports in the world last year by passenger numbers – a reasonable predictor of which airports will be busiest in 2022 – 24/7 Tempo consulted a report by Airports Council International, a trade organization that aggregates data from over 2,500 airports worldwide.
The United States dominated passenger rankings in 2021 with eight of the top 10 busiest airports in the world. The remaining two are in China. Georgia’s Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) has returned to its No. 1 spot as busiest airport in the world by passenger numbers, after China’s Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport (CAN) broke ATL’s 22-year streak in 2020. By comparison, the busiest airport in Europe, Charles de Gaule (CDG) in Paris, saw only 19.3 million passengers last year.
According to ACI, traffic trends appear to be stabilizing toward pre-pandemic numbers. All eight U.S. airports showed at least a 58% increase in passenger traffic from 2020 to 2021, while the two Chinese airports showed slight decreases during the same time frame. In terms of aircraft movements (a measure of both take-offs and landings), ATL again claimed no. 1, followed by Chicago O’Hare (ORD) and Dallas Fort Worth (DFW). (DFW is also the worst city for airport layovers.)