Denver over Dubai: U.S. airports dominate rankings of world’s busiest last year

Travelers walk through Terminal A at Orlando International Airport on Christmas Day, Saturday, December 25, 2021.

Stephen M. Dowell | Orlando Sentinel | Getty Images

U.S. airports made up eight of the 10 busiest hubs around the world last year, according to new rankings released Monday, as a jump in domestic leisure travel displaced some of the world’s bustling international hubs during the pandemic.

Delta Air Lines hub Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world’s busiest before the pandemic, maintained its top spot on the Airport Council International’s 2021 preliminary ranking, with 75.7 million passengers last year. American Airlines-dominated Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport ranked second with 62.6 million passengers.

Denver International Airport vaulted to third place last year with 58.8 million people, up from eighth place in 2020 and 16th in 2019. Orlando International Airport jumped to seventh place with 40.3 million people —a big improvement after ranking 27th in 2020 and 31st in 2019.

The rankings show how international travel remained subdued last year even though some countries, including the U.S., loosened pandemic travel restrictions. While U.S. airports topped the ranking, passenger traffic was down across the board. ACI estimates airlines carried 4.5 billion people last year, down 50% from 2019 but up 25% from 2020.

Domestic U.S. leisure travel has been a bright spot in the pandemic for the country’s airlines, though executives have said they expect at least trans-Atlantic travel demand to be strong this spring and summer. Renewed lockdowns in China have cast doubt on a resurgence in a demand there, however.

In 2019, airports in Beijing, Dubai and Tokyo ranked second, third and fifth on the list, respectively. Dubai continued to top international passenger traffic rankings last year. The other two hubs didn’t make the cut.

Here are the 2021 rankings (with 2019 ranking in parentheses):

  1. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (1)
  2. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (10)
  3. Denver International Airport (16)
  4. Chicago O’Hare International Airport (6)
  5. Los Angeles International Airport (3)
  6. Charlotte Douglas International Airport, in Charlotte, North Carolina (34)
  7. Orlando International Airport (31)
  8. Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport, in Guangzhou, China (11)
  9. Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport, in Chengdu, China (24)
  10. Harry Reid International Airport, in Las Vegas, Nevada (30)