Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport loses title of ‘busiest’ in the world after 22 years

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ATLANTA, GEORGIA – APRIL 20: Travelers walk through terminal A at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on April 20, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. The airline industry has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing the cancellation and consolidation of flights across the globe. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Atlanta’s air hub is no longer flying high as the world’s “busiest” airport, according to a global airport trade association.

Airports Council International World (ACI World) on Tuesday released its latest traffic rankings of the world’s major airports, and preliminary data has indicated that Bai Yun International Airport (CAN), in Guangzhou, China, was the busiest in the world in 2020, with passenger traffic of over 43.7 million.

Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL), which has held ACI World’s title of “busiest” airport for the previous 22 consecutive years, fell to the second spot with just over 42.9 million.

Both CAN and ATL, however, had experienced dramatic drops in passenger volume amid the coronavirus pandemic, with CAN’s traffic down from 73.3 million passengers in 2019, and ATL’s down from 110.5 million.

“The impact of the COVID-19 on global passenger traffic pandemic brought aviation to a virtual standstill in 2020 and we continue to face an existential threat,” ACI World Director General Luis Felipe de Oliveira said in a statement shared Tuesday.

The ACI World director added that the recovery of passenger volume “remains uneven” as different regions of the world are experiencing “different challenges” and regulations concerning their aviation authorities.

ACI World also indicated that ongoing international travel restrictions may have contributed to more domestic trips — and therefore more busy airports — within China’s borders.

As evidence of this, ACI World’s rankings show that seven of 2020’s busiest airports were located in China, with the other three located in the United States (ATL, as well as Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and Denver International Airport). In 2019, only two of the world’s busiest airports were located in China (Beijing and Shanghai, specifically), as ranked by ACI World.

Executives at ACI World, however, are confident that Atlanta will once again regain its long-held title as travel restrictions loosen.  

“While the industry recovers, we expect ATL to retake its spot at the top in the coming years,” said Patrick Lucas, ACI World’s vice president of economics, in a statement shared with CNN.

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