Atlanta Loses Its Status As World's Busiest Airport After 20 Years — See the New No. 1

7 of the world's busiest airports in 2020 were in China.

Atlanta was knocked off as the city with the world's busiest airport last year, breaking a more than 20-year-long streak of packed terminals and constant air traffic.

Taking the top spot in 2020 was Guangzhou Bai Yun International Airport more than 43 million passengers in a beleaguered year painted by travel restrictions and warnings. It's a major step up in the rankings — conducted by Airports Council International (ACI) World —for the southern Chinese city since it came in at No. 11 in 2019, but still represented a 40.4% drop in passenger traffic at the airport from the year before.

Guangzhou Bai Yun International Airport
Zhong Liting/Southern Metropolis Daily

In fact, seven of the world's busiest airports in 2020 were in China with major cities like Beijing and Shanghai gracing the list.

"The impact of the COVID-19 on global passenger traffic… 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. "The data published today reveals the challenge airports continue to face and it remains imperative that the industry is supported through direct support and sensible policy decisions from governments to ensure that aviation can endure, rebuild connectivity, and fuel a global economic recovery."

The Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (which came in at No. 2 this year after seeing a 61.2% drop in passengers compared to 2019), Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (which took the No. 4 spot), and Denver International Airport (No. 7 on the list) rounded out the top 10.

In total, passenger traffic at the world's top 10 busiest airports decreased by about 45.7% in 2020, while passenger traffic at airports overall decreased by about 64.6%, according to ACI.

While passenger traffic came to a virtual halt, air cargo volume in the 10 busiest cargo hubs increased by 3% last year, which ACI attributed to an increase in demand for things like online consumer goods, pharmaceutical products, and personal protective equipment.

Alison Fox is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure. When she's not in New York City, she likes to spend her time at the beach or exploring new destinations and hopes to visit every country in the world. Follow her adventures on Instagram.

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