O'Hare now No. 2 busiest airport as COVID-19 takes toll on aviation

  • Even Thanksgiving didn't restore the bustle at O'Hare International Airport as shown by lots of space in the baggage claim area on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020.

      Even Thanksgiving didn't restore the bustle at O'Hare International Airport as shown by lots of space in the baggage claim area on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer, November 2020

 
 
Posted1/22/2021 7:00 PM

O'Hare International Airport's arch rival, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, has pushed the Chicago facility out of first place for hosting the most flights in 2020, the Federal Aviation Administration reported Friday.

In 2020, O'Hare hosted 538,211 operations in contrast with Hartsfield-Jackson's 548,016, making the Atlanta airport the nation's busiest.

 

The announcement, however, comes at a singular time for the aviation industry with the COVID-19 pandemic decimating air travel since March 2020 when virus cases began to spiral. Air traffic at O'Hare dropped by 41% in 2020 compared to 2019; at Hartsfield-Jackson, operations were down by 39%.

During more normal times, the two airports have traded the nation's busiest title.

Hartsfield-Jackson's air traffic from 2015 through 2017 gave it the top spot for three years, although O'Hare saw more flights in 2014.

But travel in and out of O'Hare in 2018 bumped the Chicago airport up to No. 1. And in 2019, O'Hare accommodated 919,704 flights, besting the Atlanta airport's 904,301 arrivals and departures.

The busiest day at O'Hare in 2020 was March 12 with 2,638 operations and the most flights in a month occurred in January.

Midway International Airport is the 28th busiest airport in the U.S. based on 2020 data. Midway hosted 150,198 flights in 2020, a decrease of 35% compared to 2019's 232,084 tally.

Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport had the third highest air traffic in 2020 with 514,702 flights, down 29% from 2019. Fourth was Denver International Airport with 442,571 operations, showing a 31% decrease from 2019; and fifth was Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina with 397,983 flights, a 31% drop.

Missing from the top five was Los Angeles International Airport, reflecting the COVID-19 factor.

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