The first mention of Josep Tarradellas Barcelona-El Prat airport dates back to 1916, when it was located at El Remolar, in the grounds of La Volatería farm, from which the facilities took their name. Between 1941 and 1946, the aerodrome underwent a series of reforms as a result of which it encroached on the nearby runway and facilities of the Catalonia Flying Club, built between 1939 and 1941.

In 1948, runway 07-25 was built –the one currently used as the primary runway– crossing over the runway that existed at the time. Between 1948 and 1952, a third runway was added, with a 16-34 orientation, perpendicular to 07-25, and taxiways and a passenger terminal were built.

In 1963, Barcelona-El Prat airport reached its first million passengers, while in 1965 two new extensions were carried out on runway 07-25 and a parallel taxiway was added with exit taxiways. During this period, the control tower and a new apron were built, and the terminal was expanded.

Between 1965 and 1970, runways 07-25 and 02-20 took on their current configuration and the apron expansion was completed. In 1968, the new terminal was inaugurated, while major urbanisation works were done and several air navigation radio aids were installed.

On 3 August 1970, Pan American started operating the New York-Lisbon-Barcelona route, operating a Boeing 747. On 4 November, the Barcelona-Madrid air shuttle service began. In 1977, passenger traffic was now over 5 million.

Between 1970 and 1990, the most important action carried out was the construction of the air shuttle terminal and the cargo terminal, built in 1976 with an annexed mail service and an apron for cargo aircraft.

From 1990, Barcelona-El Prat Airport faced the challenge of absorbing all of the traffic expected for 1992, the year the Olympic Games were held in Barcelona. In 1990, the new service building was inaugurated; in 1992, the passenger terminal extension began providing service (terminal B), along with the new terminals A and C, which included the first 24 positions with direct access to the aircraft through airbridges. That year there were over 10 million passengers.

In 1994, departure point 25, for instrument (ILS) approaches, became fully operational. From that moment on, the airport implemented a basic operations configuration based on landings on runway 25 and takeoffs on runway 20, which made it possible to increase progressively the capacity of the airfield from 38 operations per hour to 50.

In 1995, the new control tower was inaugurated, the first action carried out on the side of runway 07-25 closest to the sea. This was the first sign of the future airport development between the two parallel 07-25 runways. In 1996, the new multipurpose terminal began operations in the loading zone and was the first infrastructure designed to create a loading zone at the airport that would be more than just a group of terminals: a new air freight facility.

From 1995, Barcelona-El Prat Airport began to clearly benefit from the process of deregulating the scheduled air services, allowing the airport to enter a period of spectacular growth and consolidating it as one of the top 15 airports in Europe and one of the top 50 in the world.

In 1999, the Ministry of Public Works approved the Master Plan for Barcelona-El Prat Airport, formally implementing the Barcelona Plan, the third great transformation operation of Barcelona airport, after those of 1968 and 1992.

Thus, in July 2001 the new Module 0 for regional aviation came into operation and 2003 saw the renovation of terminal B (new shopping area and improvement of the baggage reclaim area) and the expansion of terminal A, which provided a new boarding module, the M-5, equipped with six airbridges for international and EU flights. The airfield was inaugurated in September 2004 and brought the third runway, parallel to the main runway, into service. This new infrastructure is equipped with the runway lighting facilities of maximum category and with ILS Category II/III systems in each departure point. This enables its use in both directions and in foggy conditions. Runway 07L-25R has also been lengthened to 3,743 metres and widened to 60 metres.

In 2007, the intermodal building connecting terminals A and B was inaugurated, aligning the front façades of the various airport terminals, which will give continuity to the check-in desks located between the Olympic terminal and the future configuration of terminal A. In 2008, it was terminal C that inaugurated a new expansion module: 2,200 square metres with 14 new check-in desks, 2 baggage reclaim carousels, ticket sales offices, etc.

In June 2009, the new T1 terminal - the most emblematic project of the expansion of Barcelona-El Prat Airport - came into operation: a large building, 500,000 square metres in size, with an investment exceeding 1,200 million euros, which provides the airport with the infrastructure and capacity required to make it the definitive reference airport for the Mediterranean region. T1 has 101 boarding gates, 166 check-in desks, 12,000 parking spaces and more than 20,000 square metres of shopping areas, making this terminal a real city within a city.

On 6 June 2011, the airport's name was officially changed to Barcelona-El Prat, in response to a request from the Town Council of El Prat de Llobregat, to ensure a standardised name for the airport installations, as the general public and the media were in the habit of calling the airport "Barcelona" or "El Prat" interchangeably. On 1 March 2019, the official name was changed and became Josep Tarradellas Barcelona-El Prat in recognition of and respect for the historic role of the president of the Generalitat de Catalunya on the 30th anniversary of his death.