World's busiest airports: China dominates rankings, as Dubai leads for international passengers

As Covid-19 continues to disrupt travel, Guangzhou is named the world's busiest airport, knocking Atlanta into second place after two decades on top

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Airports in China have dominated new rankings of the world's 10 busiest airports, with Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport welcoming the most passengers in 2020, according to preliminary data revealed by Airports Council International (ACI).

The findings mean that the former busiest airport in the world – Atlanta in Georgia, US – has dropped into second place after a long 22 years on top.

Elsewhere, London's Heathrow and Dubai International Airport have fallen out of the top 10 rankings for total passengers in 2020, but DXB ranked first for international passenger numbers. The transport hubs were listed in fourth (Dubai) and seventh (London) position in 2019.

Overall, seven airports in China dominate the top 10 total passengers list, with the other three located in the US.

All airports in the rankings recorded a drop in passenger numbers because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The top 10 busiest airports in the world in 2020

China's Guangzhou airport was the busiest in 2020 by total passenger numbers according to preliminary data from the Airports Council International (ACI). Courtesy Unsplash

1. Guangzhou, China

2. Atlanta, Georgia, US

3. Chengdu, China

4. Dallas Fort Worth, Texas, US

5. Shenzhen, China

6. Beijing, China

7. Denver, Colorado, US

8. Kunming, China

9. Shanghai, China

10. Xi'an, China

Guangzhou's climb to the number one spot is a major step up in the rankings for the city, as last year it ranked 11th. In 2020, nearly 44 million passengers arrived at the transport hub in southern China, according to the latest data from ACI.

Click through the gallery above to see photos of the world's busiest airports in 2020.

“The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on global passenger traffic brought aviation to a virtual standstill in 2020 and we continue to face an existential threat,” said ACI World director general Luis Felipe de Oliveira.

“The findings show that the impact remains uneven, with different regions experiencing different challenges and requiring different policy decisions and support from governments to lay the foundation for recovery.

“With some positive signs of recovery, especially in countries with high rates of vaccination, a sustained global recovery will only be realised with an escalation of vaccination campaigns, the continued development of digital health passes, and co-ordinated and cohesive policy support from governments.”

As the first country in the world to battle Covid-19, China was also one of the first places to return to a sense of normality after the imposition of strict lockdowns and rapid vaccination strategies.

Dubai leads for international air travel

While Dubai International Airport, which was the fourth busiest in the world in 2019, dropped out of the top 10 rankings for total passenger numbers this year, it ranked first for international passenger numbers.

This is despite the airport witnessing a 70.1 per cent dip in traffic, as more than 25 million global travellers passed through in 2020, compared to over 86 million in 2019.

Dubai airport was recently named the busiest airport in the Middle East by data and analytics company Cirium.

Dubai International Airport received the most international passengers out of any airport in the world in 2020. Courtesy DXB

China has the world's second-largest domestic travel market after the US, but international travel to and from China remains highly restricted.

Leading the way in terms of international passenger numbers are the GCC and Europe. Joining Dubai in the top 10 rankings are Amsterdam, London, Frankfurt, Istanbul, Doha, Incheon, Singapore and Madrid.


Cargo air traffic has been the one segment of the aviation industry to come out of the pandemic strong.

Air cargo volume in the world's busiest hubs increased by 3 per cent in 2020. ACI attributes this to an increase in demand for online consumer goods, pharmaceutical products and personal protective equipment.

In this category, Memphis in the US came out on top, followed by Hong Kong, Shanghai, Anchorage, Louisville, Incheon, Chinese Taipei, Los Angeles, Doha and Miami.

Again, in the international freight category, Dubai ranked within the top 10, coming in at number eight.