Atlanta airport takes number one spot, but Salt Lake International primed for growth

May 1, 2022, 7:39 PM | Updated: May 2, 2022, 5:14 pm
Salt Lake's airport is listed as the 70th busiest in the world, and is 21st in North America....
Salt Lake International Airport did not make the list of world's top ten busiest airports, but is poised to grow in coming years. Photo courtesy of KSL News

SALT LAKE CITY  —  As the summer travel season gets under way,  Salt Lake International Airport is expecting an uptick in passengers.  Deseret News reporter Bridger Beal-Cvetko reports as busy as Salt Lake’s airport can get during peak travel seasons, a report by Airports Council International World lists Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson as the busiest airport in the world.  Hartsfield-Jackson totaled over 75 million passengers in 2021.  Salt Lake City is ranked as 70th busiest in the world,  21st overall in North America.

“It sounds like the airport built away from the city on a lot of flat land out in Atlanta, a lot of open space has really given it room to grow. I thought of Salt Lake City, having a lot of space, so I think as the city grows and as the community along the Wasatch Front continues to grow I see Salt Lake City really climbing up the list,” says Beal-Cvetko.

Beal-Cvetko says Salt Lake served nearly 22.4 million passengers in 2021, but is still 17% below pre-pandemic numbers.  The airport saw nearly 27 million passengers in 2019.

As Phase 2 gets under way, new shops, restaurants and gates, and a Central Tunnel to connect A and B Concourses should make it easier to handle bigger crowds as Salt Lake City and surrounding areas see a growth in population.

“A lot of what they’ve done with the space in the airport, it’s a lot bigger than it was before. It sounds like they’re trying to re-imagine the airport to make it more accessible not only to more passengers but more freight as well,” according to Beal-Cvetko.

Phase 2 is expected to be opened in 2024.

Nearby Denver, Vegas airports make the top ten

Also making the top 10 world’s busiest airports is nearby Las Vegas where Harry Reid International Airport saw 39.8 million passengers.  Beal-Cvetko says he is surprised, but understands why Vegas airport is so busy.

“You know I think Las Vegas and maybe Denver as well, both in the top 10, both are in the middle of the country are good connecting points to the rest of the country.  I was surprised to see that one on there with some of the bigger airports you might expect,” says Beal-Cvetko.

According to USA Today, the Orlando International Airport saw the biggest year-to-year increase from No. 27 in 2020 to No. 7 in 2021, an 87% increase in passengers.

Airports are in COVID-19 recovery mode

Beal-Cvetko says no surprise, the last 2-plus years of the spread of COVID-19 has changed the airport landscape.

“In 2020 an airport in China was the busiest airport, it beat out Atlanta but Atlanta took that spot back in 2021,” says Beal-Cvetko. “That’s probably due to China’s lock downs that were still ongoing last year into this year that’s probably played a part.”

China’s Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport saw the world’s biggest drop-off in passengers with an 8% decrease, according to Business Insider.

Atlanta is still 32% behind it’s 2019 numbers, and Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina — which is the closest to a full recovery — is still 13% below where it was in 2019.

8 of the world’s top 10 busiest airports are located in the U.S.

Here’s the full list of the world’s ten busiest airports in 2021:

  1. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, 75.7 million passengers
  2. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, 62.5 million passengers
  3. Denver International Airport, 58.8 million passengers
  4. Chicago O’Hare International Airport, 54 million passengers
  5. Los Angeles International Airport, 48 million passengers
  6. Charlotte Douglas International Airport, 43.3 million passengers
  7. Orlando International Airport, 40.4 million passengers
  8. Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport, China, 40.3 million passengers
  9. Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport, China, 40.1 million passengers
  10. Las Vegas’ Harry Reid International Airport, 39.8 million passengers

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Atlanta airport takes number one spot, but Salt Lake International primed for growth