Salt Lake City International Airport is among the 20 busiest commercial airports in the nation, surpassing hubs in the Big Apple and the City of Brotherly Love.
A Federal Aviation Administration report, which provides preliminary data on passenger boardings for 2021, shows Salt Lake City as the country’s 20th busiest airport with about 10.8 million boardings last year. It is the same ranking the hub held in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic crushed air travel nationwide.
Numbers for 2021 show Salt Lake City passing three major airports in the rankings since 2019.
The Utah capital’s airport was — at least over the past two years — busier than Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, New York’s LaGuardia and Philadelphia International Airport.
Passenger boardings for those four airports all were lower in 2021 than the year before the pandemic, but Salt Lake City appears to be rebounding faster than the others.
Philadelphia’s 2021 passenger numbers were about 60% of the airport’s 2019 total, and LaGuardia’s figures in 2021 were only about half what they were the year before the pandemic.
Salt Lake City’s 2021 passenger boardings, however, had risen to about 85% of its 2019 total.
Bill Wyatt, executive director of the city’s Department of Airports, attributes the ranking to travelers feeling safe coming to Utah, where they can stay outdoors by visiting national parks and hitting the ski resorts.
“But also,” he said, “just the incredible strength of the economy here in the region, so more people are traveling here.”
Wyatt said airport management doesn’t have much to do with the growth, but it helps that the new $4.1 billion airport is able to accommodate more traffic.
“That’s why we’re building a new airport,” he said.
The new airport opened in 2020 and is still under construction. A surge in passengers since the beginning of the pandemic has forced airport officials to make some adjustments, such as gaining budget approval to expand a park-and-wait lot for those picking up passengers.
Wyatt said he suspects Salt Lake City will continue climbing the chart, due largely to Delta Air Lines’ support for the airport’s growth. The facility, a Delta hub, is only about 115,000 passengers behind 19th-ranked Boston Logan International Airport in last year’s tally..
The top-ranked airports were no surprise. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport led the list, followed by Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and Denver International Airport.
Final passenger numbers for 2021 are expected to be released in August.