Guangzhou Beats Atlanta As World’s Busiest Airport

After 22 consecutive years in the top spot as the world’s busiest airport, Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson was pushed to second place for 2020. Despite a 40% drop in traffic compared to 2019, China’s Guangzhou still catered to 43.8 million passengers, putting in the number one spot for the year.

Thanks to the impact of COVID, Guangzhou is the world’s busiest airport for 2020. Photo: byeangel via Flickr

The 40% drop in passenger numbers at Guangzhou was actually a small reduction compared to Atlanta, which suffered a 61% drop in traffic. Previously the world’s busiest airport, the impact of the pandemic saw it slip from the top spot. Atlanta processed 42.9 million passengers in 2020, putting it just under one million behind Guangzhou.

While China might be enjoying the top spot, for now, Atlanta is predicted to recover its place either this year or next, depending on the situation. Guangzhou will likely fall back down the rankings; it placed 11th in 2019.

Atlanta will likely recover the top spot this year or next year. Photo: Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson

Who else is on the list?

Overall, China dominates the list of the top ten busiest airports in the world. Seven of the top ten are in China due to the high level of domestic operations across the country. The list has been compiled by airport trade organization Airports Council International and is based on passenger numbers. The complete list looks like this:

  1. Guangzhou (CAN) — 43.8 million passengers in 2020; traffic dropped 40% from 2019
  2. Atlanta (ATL) — 42.9 million passengers in 2020; traffic dropped 61% from 2019
  3. Chengdu (CTU) — 40.7 million passengers in 2020; traffic dropped 27% from 2019
  4. Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) — 39.4 million passengers in 2020; traffic dropped 48% from 2019
  5. Shenzhen (SZX) — 37.9 million passengers in 2020; traffic dropped 28% from 2019
  6. Beijing (PEK) — 34.5 million passengers in 2020; traffic dropped 66% from 2019
  7. Denver (DEN) — 33.7 million passengers in 2020; traffic dropped 51% from 2019
  8. Kunming (KMG) — 33 million passengers in 2020; traffic dropped 31% from 2019
  9. Shanghai (SHA) — 31.2 million passengers in 2020; traffic dropped 32% from 2019
  10. Xi’an (XIY) — 31.1 million passengers in 2020; traffic dropped 34% from 2019

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What can the list tell us about COVID-19 recovery

Thanks to their domestic and regional networks, China and the US dominate the list. Experts have been predicting for months now that long-haul international travel will be the slowest to recover and these figures certainly seem to back that up.

There are no European Airports in the top ten for 2020, but Heathrow should move back up the list in 2021. Photo: Heathrow Airport

No European airports made the top ten despite London and Paris having made the list in 2019. Surprisingly, despite remaining open to tourists much longer than other nations, Dubai also fell from the top ten, having placed 4th previously and then falling way down to 19th. Tokyo is another noticeable fall. In 2019 it came in at number five while for 2020 it slipped to 12th.

It’s no surprise last year’s figures show massive change; the effect of the pandemic is global. What will be interesting is to see what happens in 2021. European countries look set to have a strong summer as borders reopen and demand seems high, which could see more European airports enter the top ten this year.

What do you think the results will be for 2021? Will China and the US still dominate or will we see a few more airports break the top ten? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.