Orlando cracks list of world’s top 10 busiest airports as U.S. leisure traffic soars

Passengers check in for a Southwest Airlines flight at Orlando International Airport in Orlando, Florida, U.S., October 11, 2021. REUTERS/Joe Skipper/File Photo

April 11 (Reuters) – Orlando cracked a list of the world’s top 10 busiest airports by passengers for the first time last year, as the home of the Walt Disney World and Universal Studios Florida theme parks joined mostly American hubs as soaring leisure travel underpins a recovery in traffic.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport topped the rankings by passenger traffic published Monday by Airports Council International (ACI), which is based on a preliminary compilation of 2021 global data.

The report also ranked airports by cargo volumes and aircraft movements.

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While the United States has seen the fastest and strongest recovery in travel, fueled by leisure trips to destinations like Florida, it still trails 2019 traffic levels.

According to FlightAware data for March 6 to 13, U.S. commercial flights were down almost 18% compared with the same period in 2019. By contrast, global traffic was down nearly 27%.

With 40.4 million passengers, Florida’s Orlando International Airport ranked seventh in 2021, just ahead of China’s Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport, and breaking into the top 10 for the first time since data was available in 1991, ACI told Reuters.

While China remains an aviation powerhouse the country’s international borders remained closed in 2021. Domestic traffic fell due to the country’s zero-COVID policy which meant a series of outbreaks that are tiny by world standards led to strict internal travel controls, dampening demand.

A spokeswoman for the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority said the airport is expecting higher traffic in 2022 as international and business travel return in greater numbers.

The rankings “tell the story of an encouraging trend of recovery, with most of the recurrent busiest airports pre-COVID-19 back at the top,” ACI World Director General Luis Felipe de Oliveira said in a statement.

Traffic at the top 10 busiest airports in 2021 represented about 463 million passengers or almost 10% of global traffic, ACI said.

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Reporting By Allison Lampert in Montreal; Additional reporting by Jamie Freed in Sydney; Editing by Andrea Ricci

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