Travelers passing through the Maynard H. Jackson Jr. International Terminal. Photo: Hartsfield-Jackson

It’s no surprise that Atlanta’s airport hosted 93.7 million passengers in 2022 and expected to retain its crown as the world’s busiest, but a big jump in international traffic brought Hartsfield-Jackson closer to reaching its goal as an engine for the metro area’s global growth. 

Travelers coming into the country through Atlanta or heading abroad from here grew by 75 percent to 9.9 million, up from 5.6 million last year. That was much faster than the already-strong overall traffic growth rate of 23.8 percent. 

Still, the international figures remain well short of the 13 million projected when Concourse F was built as an international terminal more than a decade ago, and as a proportion of total traffic, international was just 10.5 percent. 

When Atlanta handled 110 million passengers in 2019, international made up 11.4 percent of the total. Competitor airports like New York JFK and Miami regularly see about half of their traffic from international travelers.

Still, ATL notched routes to 13 new international destinations during the calendar year: five to Central and South America, one to Africa, four to the Caribbean, one to Canada and two to Europe. Flights to Israel and Ethiopia are also set to launch soon from Atlanta. 

Airport officials had previously said that business travel and international travel, which combined account for the most lucrative segment for airlines, would be the last to come back after the devastation wrought by the pandemic on air travel. That international seems to be rising faster now than domestic traffic — which had already seen a substantive recovery — validates that view. 

Atlanta boosters covet new international routes, as they tend to drive not only trade and investment, but they also to build the city’s brand and make it easier for executives to drop in. For a city that has enjoyed less brand recognition than some competitors in the U.S., a big part of the strategy has been showcasing Atlanta’s charms in person. 

“Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is the city’s crown jewel and the economic engine for the Southeast,” said Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens. “As the busiest airport in the world, Hartsfield-Jackson connects our residents to the world, and brings a world of opportunities to our doorstep. As we continue to invest in the Airport’s future, we will make sure it continues to provide the best service to our residents, visitors and businesses, all while creating good-paying jobs for our diverse workforce.”

Cargo, another element of the airport’s international mix, was down 6.3 percent to 688,614 metric tons as the need for pandemic-related supplies subsided. 

The airport is investing $11.5 billion over the next 20 years through its ATLNext capital campaign to improve infrastructure and operations. The self-funded entity run by the city, the airport generated $585.1 million in revenue from services, food, beverage and retail operations. 

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...