Hartsfield-Jackson handled 93.7 million passengers in 2022

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

The airport reclaimed its “world’s busiest” title in 2021.

Passenger counts at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport surged 24% last year, the busiest year since the start of the pandemic but not quite back to 2019′s record traffic.

The rebound at Hartsfield-Jackson coincided with a boom in air travel as cooped up leisure travelers and grounded road warriors returned to the skies. But summer air travel snarls were headwinds for many airports. Delta Air Lines and other carriers are expected to return to busier flight schedules in 2023.

Hartsfield-Jackson handled 93.7 million passengers in 2022, up from 75.7 million in 2021 and a pandemic low of 42.9 million in 2020.

The Atlanta airport still hasn’t seen traffic recover to pre-pandemic levels. In 2019, the airport handled a record 110.5 million passengers.

An airport in Guangzhou, China briefly overtook Hartsfield-Jackson with more passengers in 2020, but Hartsfield-Jackson reclaimed its title as the world’s busiest airport in 2021.

Official airport industry rankings have not yet been released declaring whether Hartsfield-Jackson retained its crown in 2022.

But Atlanta airport officials say a preliminary review of figures projects Hartsfield-Jackson as the world’s busiest airport for the year.

ExploreChina airport passes Hartsfield-Jackson as world’s busiest in 2020

Last year, the vast majority of air travel through Atlanta was domestic passengers. The total included 83.7 million people getting on and off domestic flights and just under 10 million flying internationally.

In 2019, Hartsfield-Jackson handled more than 97 million domestic passengers and about 12.7 million international passengers.

Atlanta-based Delta cut back its flight schedule last year after its staffing issues caused mass flight cancellations over the summer. Hartsfield-Jackson General Manager Balram Bheodari has said Hartsfield-Jackson’s traffic is still well below pre-pandemic levels because Delta held back on restoring more flights in Atlanta last year.

In 2022, Delta focused on adding flights at its coastal hubs in New York, Boston, Seattle and Los Angeles to maintain market share in those competitive markets.

ExploreTo limit cancellations, Delta halts flight growth for rest of year

Much of the Delta’s focus to add flights back this year will be in Atlanta, which is its “biggest, most profitable hub,” according to Delta Chief Financial Officer Dan Janki at the company’s investor day in December. This year, Atlanta will make up 45% of Delta’s domestic growth.

Delta President Glen Hauenstein said last month the airline’s flight schedule was about 85% restored at Hartsfield-Jackson, and is expected to be 95% restored by summer and 100% restored by fall.

Delta and its partners control about 80% of the market at the Atlanta airport, based on the 2022 data. The second-largest carrier, Southwest Airlines, handles 8% of the traffic.

Ultra low-cost carriers Spirit Airlines and Frontier Airlines each have about 2.7% of the Atlanta market, while legacy carrier American Airlines has 2.2% and United Airlines 1.75%. The rest of the airlines each handle less than 1% of the traffic at Hartsfield-Jackson.

The Atlanta airport last year handled 724,145 flights in 2022, up 2.3% year-over-year, but still well short of its 904,301 flight operations in 2019 before the pandemic. Delta has been replacing smaller regional jets with larger planes to carry more passengers without having to add as many flights.

The trend towards larger planes with fewer departures and landings also means Hartsfield-Jackson has had less urgency to plan for a potential sixth runway.

Cargo traffic was down last year. Hartsfield-Jackson handled 668,614 metric tons of cargo in 2022, a decline of 6.28% year-over-year.