Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) has reclaimed its spot as the world’s busiest airport, helped by rebounding domestic traffic in the United States.  

ATL had lost the top spot in 2020 to Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport (CAN) in China during the COVID-19 pandemic. CAN dropped to eighth place in the 2021 rankings, as per data published by the Airports Council International (ACI) World on April 11, 2022.   

ATL welcomed 75.7 million passengers in 2021, a 76.4% increase compared to 2020. Second on the list for 2021 was Dallas Fort Worth (DFW), which saw passenger numbers increase 58.7% to 62.5 million, while Denver International (DEN) was third with 58.8 million passengers, a 74.4% increase.  

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

Orlando International (MCO) saw the biggest improvement with an 86.7% increase in passengers, helping it jump to seventh place in the 2021 rankings, up from 27 in 2020.  

ACI top 10 airports 2021

Top 10 airports 2021 Source: ACI World

Of the top 10 airports, eight are in the United States, ACI noted, adding they all have a significant share of domestic traffic, which has recovered faster than international traffic from the pandemic.  

In terms of the busiest airports classed by international passengers, Dubai (DXB) maintains its top ranking, with over 29 million international passengers, a 12.7% increase on 2020 numbers.  

Istanbul (IST) comes second, having leapfrogged the major European hubs of Amsterdam (AMS), Frankfurt (FRA), Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) and London Heathrow (LHR) since the start of the pandemic.   

ACI Top 10 airports 2021 international passengers

Top 10 Airports by international passengers Source ACI World

Of the top 10 airports by international passengers, LHR was the only one not to see an increase in international passengers in 2021. 

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Passenger numbers at London Heathrow fell to 1972 levels in 2021, in what the operator described as its worst year in history
 

 ACI said it expected recovery to continue in 2022 and urged governments to ease travel restrictions.  

“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,” Oliveira commented.