Here’s just how low airline travel was peak COVID


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After a federal court struck down the nationwide mask mandate on airports, planes and other forms of public transportation, it remains unclear how the decision will impact flight traffic in the United States. While some passengers may have been discouraged from flying by the prospect of having to wear a mask both in-flight and at the airport, others may decide to stay grounded now, unwilling to board a crowded plane without a mask mandate in place.


As the following chart shows, U.S. airports have been getting quite busy lately, with daily passenger throughput exceeding 90 percent of 2019, i.e., pre-pandemic traffic in April 2022.


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Infographic: U.S. Airport Throughput Close to Pre-Pandemic Levels | Statista You will find more infographics at Statista

Following an abysmal 2020, where passengers remained hesitant to return to the skies, flight traffic picked up noticeably in the second quarter of 2021, as the vaccine rollout proceeded rapidly. According to data from the Transport Security Administration, passenger throughput at U.S. airports started climbing steadily, with TSA safety checks exceeding two million in a single day for the first time since the pandemic hit on June 11.


Throughout the busy summer season, the daily average hovered around the two-million -mark, trailing 2019 passenger numbers by roughly 500,000 a day on average. By the end of the year, the gap had narrowed to 350,000-400,000 before gradually climbing closer to pre-pandemic levels in the first four months of 2022.


Prior to the pandemic, daily passenger volumes of 2+ million were the norm rather than the exception. At the onset of the pandemic, daily passenger throughput fell as low as 100,000 in April 2020, before slowly climbing back to its current level. Throughout 2021, the TSA performed an average of 1.59 million safety checks per day, compared to 880,000 in 2020 and 2.31 million in 2019. As of April 17, this year’s average daily passenger throughput stands at 1.81 million.


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The most dazzling airports in the world


If the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has you yearning for not just the world’s most beautiful places (and underground spaces), but the ports in between, well, we understand. Many modern airports aren’t merely transportation hubs; they’re also design feats, full of fine dining, designer shops, cultural nods, exciting attractions, iconic ceilings and standalone works of art. From the peaks of Denver to a gem at a southern tip of the world, curb your urge to travel by “visiting” 26 of the world’s most beautiful airports.


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The world’s best airport — according to air transport rating organization Skytrax’s rankings — is, unsurprisingly, one of the most beautiful. The 135,700-square-meter Jewel Changi Airport in Singapore features lush gardens, canopy bridges (pictured), mazes, sculptural slides, hotel rooms, swanky shops and several Michelin star restaurants.



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One of the spectacular airport’s most popular attractions (yes, attractions) are the Manulife Sky Nets. One web is for walkers, but the other 250-meter net is designed to let adventurous visitors bounce among the trees.



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Jewel Changi’s crown jewel, however, is the HSBC Rain Vortex, the world’s tallest indoor waterfall. Take a red-eye and you can catch a stunning light-and-sound show.


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Qatar’s stunning Hamad International Airport opened in April 2014 and currently accommodates over 35 million passengers per year.


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Its grand foyer houses “Lamp Bear,” a 23-foot yellow teddy sculpted from bronze by Swiss artist Urs Fischer. The big bear (and his desk lamp umbrella) was designed to “remind travelers of childhood or precious objects from home,” according to the airport website.


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Incheon International, South Korea’s largest airport, doubles as an arts and culture performance venue, hosting mini-concerts, art exhibits, dance recitals and Korean history lessons.


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Incheon Airport’s Terminal 2 opened in January 2018, a few weeks before the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games. It’s currently undergoing an expansion, expected to be completed by 2025.


The airport, located in Mumbai, India, has won several awards since undergoing modernization beginning in 2006, including the 2008 “Airport of the Year” award by Frost & Sullivan Aeronautical Excellence.


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The airport’s Terminal 2 — or T2, as it’s affectionately known — is characterized by its 17-acre roof, designed to evoke the stone pavilions of ancient Hindu temples and the eye of a peacock feather, according to Architect Magazine. (Peacocks are the country’s national bird.)


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The second-largest (and only international) airport in the UAE boasts designer shops, children’s play areas, two airport hotels, numerous lounges and a 924-square-meter VIP terminal.


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Its X-shaped central terminal was conceived as a gateway to Abu Dhabi and is characterized by ornate, colorful ceilings.


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The second largest airport in Europe, located in northeast Madrid, has four passenger terminals, one satellite building and two docks.


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Its flagship feature, however, is the curved bamboo ceiling of Terminal 4. Designed by famous architect Richard Rogers, the sustainable bamboo canopies are supported by yellow steel “tree trunks” and span 25 soccer fields.


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Malaysia’s main international airport prides itself on its service and amenities — which include a 24-hour wellness spa and a premium lounge open to all passengers — so much so, it has its own brochure.


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Designed by Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa, the airport’s Islamic-style shading roof is also meant to evoke a Malaysian rainforest.


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One of the busiest airports in the U.S. O’Hare’s most notable feature is, perhaps, its underground rainbow tunnel, connecting Concourse A to Concourse B in Terminal 1. That might change, however, as the airport is slated for a major expansion, projected to be completed by 2028.


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China’s fourth largest airport is unmistakable, thanks to Terminal 3’s curving, steel-and-glass canopy roof.


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Designed by Italian architects Massimiliano and Doriana Fuksas, the airport’s exterior evokes a manta ray, while thousands of hexagonal skylights on the interior are meant to mimic a honeycomb.


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The flagship terminal is full of other flourishes, including polished tile floors, giant, sculptural air conditioning vents and some brightly colored windows (pictured).


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Colorado’s Denver International Airport is among the world’s busiest — and most beautiful — airports, hosting 69 million passengers in 2019.


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DIA is most known for its Jeppesen Terminal, which features a peaked roof meant to evoke — and highlight — the visible Rocky Mountains. But if the terminal’s unique design doesn’t strike your fancy, maybe the many conspiracy theories surrounding the airport will.


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Turkey’s Istanbul Airport opened in October 2018 and was recently certified as a five-star airport by Skytrax.


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The airport’s massive single terminal can host up to 200 million passengers, who can visit local and designer shops, 150 eateries, several salons and a spa specializing in massage packages.


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Its iconic control tower, designed by firms AECOM and Pininfarina, was inspired by tulips, “which have been associated with Istanbul for centuries and represented a significant cultural reference in Turkish history,” according to the airport’s website.


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Another of Skytrax’s five-star airports, Tokyo Haneda International Airport is a trip itself, housing Edo Koji, a shopping center modeled after a typical street in 17th-century Japan.


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The Edo Market includes a giant replica of the original wooden Nihonbashi Bridge, surrounded by decorative folding screens from the National Museum of Japanese History that depict life during its era.


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The splashy, five-star Munich Airport is home to two terminals, 56 eateries, 137 stores, free relaxation areas and coffee stations and its very own brewery.


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In non-pandemic times, it doubles as an event space, thanks to the spectacular roof designed by architect Helmut Jahn that connects the two terminals. In 2019, the airport hosted the Southern German Skateboarding Championships and a winter festival that included an ice rink.


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Elevated 4,411 meters above sea level, Daocheng Yading Airport is currently the world’s highest civilian airport.


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The modern airport, opened in 2008, is designed to showcase the ancient city “where classical traditions of the arts, crafts, music, and food are as vibrant today as they were centuries ago,” according to its website.



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Here, again, the ornate, glass ceilings are a real highlight, flooding the airport with plenty of natural light to accentuate the modern and cultural flourishes.


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Nicknamed “the starfish” for its unique external shape, the new Beijing Daxing International Airport (it opened in Sept. 2019) is now the biggest airport in the world, spanning the equivalent of 98 soccer fields.


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The interior combines futuristic elements, like swirling black-and-white ceilings and polished floors, with cultural touches, like the traditional Chinese gardens that adorn its corridors.


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Beijing Capital International Airport — the “starfish’s” next-door neighbor —has plenty of shine on its own, featuring arching skylights, red-white-and-gold ceilings and dragon statues.


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Another one of the world’s busiest airports, Dubai International Airport served 86.4 million customers in 2019.



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The bustling and partially underground Terminal 3, which cost $4.5 billion to build, houses two food courts, numerous duty-free shops, and five- and four-star hotel rooms.


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Located on the island of Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of Argentina, the small airport comes with big panoramic views.


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Another Helmut Jahn creation, Bangkok’s sprawling Suvarnabhumi Airport was designed to “express its pivotal importance to Thailand,” according to the Architectural Record.


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It also reflects its name: Suvarnabhumi means “The Golden Land,” a traditional name for the Thailand-Cambodia-Laos-Burma region.


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The world’s busiest airport doubles as an art gallery, featuring over 1,000 works of art throughout its corridors and terminals.


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The airport’s impressive concrete-and-steel railway station, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, is meant to evoke a bird at the point of flight.


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Baku’s Heydar Aliyev International Airport was named a five-star regional airport, by Skytrax in May 2018.


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Its defining feature is its stunning wooden “cocoons,” which house eateries, shops, luggage storage centers, a spa and a children’s play area.


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Also referred to as Chek Lap Kok International Airport, this sprawling airport handled 71.5  million passengers in 2019. It’s received over 80 “World’s Best Airport” awards and is certified with Skytrax’s five-star airport rating “for facilities, comfort and cleanliness, shopping, food and beverages and staff service.”


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The airport’s distinctive scalloped roof canopies are designed for expansion — and, in fact, have already been extended three times since the airport opened in July 1998.


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Designed by architect Cesar Pelli, Washington D.C.’s National airport is characterized by “54 ‘Jeffersonian’ domes that establish a connection with the architecture of the region,” according to its website.


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The interior features work from 30 artists, including mosaic, murals and sculpture, woven between the distinctive corridors and balustrades.


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Amsterdam’s Airport Schiphol features relaxation areas designed to mimic a forest, complete with pre-recorded birds singing in the background. There are also nearby exercise bikes that will charge your phone as you pedal.


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