Hartsfield-Jackson still world’s busiest, in spite of traffic decline

<p>Passengers waiting in line at Atlanta airport</p>

Credit: WSB-TV

Credit: WSB-TV

<p>Passengers waiting in line at Atlanta airport</p>

Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport handled 103.9 million passengers in 2017, down from the previous year after a tumultuous December when an airline outage and massive snowstorm caused thousands of flight cancellations.

It's the 20th year in a row that Hartsfield-Jackson has been the busiest airport in the world, though in the past Chicago O'Hare has surpassed Atlanta in the number of flights handled.

While Hartsfield-Jackson is still the only airport to handle more than 100 million passengers in a year, it's the first year since 2013 that the Atlanta airport's passenger counts have declined.

The decline in 2013 resulted from Southwest Airlines’ flight cuts in the wake of its acquisition of AirTran Airways.

Last year, passenger counts were up year-to-date through November -- but then came December with a one-two punch to operations at the airport.

snowstorm in early December followed by a massive airport power outage later in the month caused thousands of flight cancellations.

That kept the total number of passengers for the year below the record of more than 104.1 million passengers handled by Hartsfield-Jackson in 2016.

Hartsfield-Jackson spokesman Reese McCranie called the 0.26 percent drop “sort of flat.... It’s not a precipitous drop.”

He said 2017 brought “several days of inclement weather, a couple of snow days, a severe thunderstorm in the spring,” and several hurricanes that affected flights, including Harvey, Irma and Maria.

The April thunderstorm alone triggered a five-day meltdown of Delta's flight operations, causing more than 3,300 flight cancellations.

Hartsfield-Jackson rival Chicago O’Hare, meanwhile, handled 79.8 million passengers in 2017, 2.4 increase over its total for 2016 and a record for that airport.

Chicago Department of Aviation commissioner Ginger Evans said last week that the total “clearly shows the strength of the Chicago market,” according to a written statement.

McCranie said Hartsfield-Jackson’s title as the world’s busiest airport “shows that this airport can handle large volumes of passengers efficiently and safely,” McCranie said.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said in a written statement the “worldwide leadership role” that Hartsfield-Jackson holds enables it to “maintain its status as the economic engine of the Southeast.”

The Atlanta airport saw a 2 percent decline in total flights in 2017. But international traffic was up year-over-year, as well as cargo tonnage.