Sky Harbor (PHX) opened for the first time in 1935, when the city of Phoenix, Arizona bought 285 acres of land for about $100,000. Back then, the airport was very underdeveloped (nobody wanted to live in the desert in those days), and was referred to jokingly as "the farm."

In 1952, when the airport's first modern passenger terminal opened, traffic began to take off. American Airlines and Trans World Airlines, which had been using Phoenix for transcontinental flights, were joined by Frontier Airlines and Western Airlines. Ten years later, passenger traffic had tripled to over 1 million enplanements a year, and a second terminal opened to handle the extra load. By 1979, when the third terminal opened, 7 million people were using the airport each year.

The size of the airport more than doubled in 1990, when terminal 4, the Barry Goldwater Terminal, was completed. America West Airlines is now headquartered there, and Southwest Airlines has its largest hub there.

In 2002, Phoenix saw 35.5 million passengers board and deplane, and the numbers keep rising. All of the U.S. majors fly there, as well as Aeromexico, Air Canada, British Airways, and Lufthansa. In all, these airlines serve 92 U.S. cities and 15 international destinations. The Arizona Air National Guard has a base there, and Honeywell has special engineering facilities on the south side of the airport that are used for testing new avionics and turbofan engines.

40,000 people work at Sky Harbor: the airport is estimated to generate $6 billion a year in jobs, concessions, airport transportation, and the like, not factoring in the added tourist revenue it helps to bring into the Phoenix metropolitan area.