Hong Kong no longer has the busiest airport for international traffic in Asia after
the coronavirus pandemic wiped out travel, leaving South Korea’s Incheon International Airport in top spot, albeit with drastically fewer numbers than previous years.
Hong Kong International
Airport handled 8.84 million passengers in 2020, an 88% plunge from the previous year. That sent it down two spots to third, below Seoul’s Incheon and Singapore’s Changi Airport in second. Incheon processed 11.96 million passengers last year, leaving it on top of the pile for the first time ever. Changi handled 11.8 million.
All three airports handled more than 60 million passengers in 2019, but the pandemic then came along and scorched demand for travel. Hong Kong and Singapore were affected more than most as they don’t have a domestic market to cater to, while transit traffic also slowed due to restrictions on movement. On top of that, for Hong Kong, visitor numbers started slowing in the second half of 2019 as anti-government protests gripped the city.
South Korea took a less stringent approach to containing the virus than Singapore and Hong Kong, keeping its borders relatively open and avoiding lockdowns. The government encouraged safe social distancing and made mask-wearing mandatory early on.
Taking into account domestic traffic, the main airports in Beijing and Shanghai had far more passengers than Incheon, Changi and Hong Kong as China brought its outbreak largely under control and air travel within the country recovered. Beijing Capital International Airport handled 34.5 million domestic and international passengers in 2020, while 30.5 million passed through Shanghai Pudong.
Elsewhere, London Heathrow is no longer the busiest airport in Europe after passenger numbers dropped 73% last year, leaving it trailing Paris Charles de Gaulle.
Singapore and Hong Kong agreed to start a travel corridor last year, but that was put on hold because of an increase in Covid-19 cases. Singapore Airlines Ltd started trials of a
pre-departure testing service for passengers.