Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport expects a record number of travelers over the busy holiday period, and knowing what to expect can increase your chances of handling the hassles with ease to make it to your destination smoothly.
This year there are a variety of new roadblocks, airline policy changes and expanded airport amenities. Here’s a guide to the latest updates at Hartsfield-Jackson to help ensure you take to the skies as a savvy traveler.
» PHOTOS: Things to do at Hartsfield-Jackson
AIRPORT EXPANSION AND MODERNIZATION
• ROAD CONSTRUCTION: The airport has finished constructing two giant canopies over the curbside areas, but it is still working on terminal escalators and pedestrian bridges.
Airport officials suggest using the lower roadways at Terminal North or Terminal South for faster drop-offs and pick-ups.
Allow extra time to navigate through any congestion, slow down on your approach to the terminal, and watch for lane closures.
• HOW EARLY SHOULD YOU GET TO THE AIRPORT?
Officials in Atlanta recommend getting to the airport terminal at least two hours before domestic flights and three hours before international flights. Hartsfield-Jackson suggests these 5-4-3-2-1 guidelines during busy periods such as holidays:
5: Check out of your hotel 5 hours before departure
4: Turn in your rental car or call Uber or Lyft 4 hours before departure
3: Check bags 3 hours before departure
2: Get in line for security 2 hours before departure
1: Be at your gate 1 hour before departure
You can get updates on parking, security wait times, concessionaires and flight information at the airport’s website atl.com and its iFlyATL app.
• ALLOW EXTRA TIME TO:
Navigate road construction
Find parking or take a shuttle to the terminal
Check oversized bags
Get special assistance
Travel with pets/animals (Keep your pet in its carrier and try to avoid any checkpoints with a working TSA dog, since other animals — including service animals — can distract the working dog)
• PARKING: Off-airport parking shuttle pickups have been relocated from the airport’s ground transportation center to the Terminal North lower-level curbside. Take the escalator to LN1, go out door LN1 on the lower level and turn left, then walk toward the off-airport parking shuttle pickup curbside. The drop-off location for the off-airport shuttles remains the same — at the Terminal North upper level along the outer curb.
Shuttle pickups for airport-run parking have returned to their original spot at the Terminal South curbside. To get there: On the Terminal South side of the airport, go to the West exit door W2, turn left and walk to the ParkATL shuttle pickup area.
The airport has closed its west economy lot as it prepares the site for Plane Train tunnel work. South economy and North economy parking is still available.
Airport long-term parking and off-airport lots can fill up during busy holiday periods. Consider making a parking reservation at the airport or at an off-site parking lot to ensure you get a space. You can also check Hartsfield-Jackson parking lot status online.
• UBER, LYFT PICKUP ZONES: Uber and Lyft pickups are at designated zones in the domestic terminal North and South economy lots. The Terminal South pickup zone will require walking a distance from the terminal. The Terminal North pickup zone was relocated in late 2018 to a closer location under the MARTA tracks. You can get to the closer Terminal North pickup zone by taking the escalator near Terminal North baggage claim down to door LN1, walking toward the MARTA tracks, turning right and crossing the roadway to get to the pickup zone.
During busy periods, the pickup zones can get congested with dozens of drivers and cars trying to connect. Officials recommend that arriving passengers without checked bags who use Uber or Lyft take the Plane Train people-mover to the international terminal to be picked up curbside.
• SHUTTLES: Hotel and local and regional shared-ride shuttle drop-offs have been relocated to the Terminal South roadway’s outer curb, while pickups for those shuttles are still at the airport’s ground transportation center.
NEW AIRPORT AMENITIES
• EATERIES: New food and beverage options at Hartsfield-Jackson this year include a new Concourse C food court with Krispy Kreme, Leeann Chin, Great Wraps, Bantam + Biddy, and Saladworks.
• BANK: SunTrust now has a branch in the domestic terminal and ATMs in the airport’s terminals and concourses.
• TRIBUTE WALL: A wall in tribute to civil rights icon U.S. Rep. John Lewis is now in the domestic terminal atrium.
• LOTTO: Georgia Lottery closed its Terminal South and Terminal North locations, and now has a new location on the south side of the atrium across from Delta Air Lines baggage claim. There’s also a Georgia Lottery location on Concourse T.
• ANIMAL RULES: Delta limits each passenger to one emotional support animal, prohibits pit bulls as service or support animals on flights, and requires those traveling with emotional support animals or psychiatric service animals to submit forms online 48 hours in advance. Delta this year discontinued its ban on emotional support animals on flights longer than 8 hours. Southwest Airlines also limits each passenger to one emotional support animal, which must be either a cat or a dog.
• NEW DELTA BOARDING: Delta this year launched a new boarding process. The new process is a color-coded system based on fare class. Business class, first class, premium economy, comfort+, main cabin and basic economy will each have a different color. The new process has more boarding groups, with the goal of having a smaller group of passengers lining up at a time.
• UPGRADES: Delta now allows SkyMiles frequent flyer members to use miles to upgrade their seats via the Fly Delta app, in addition to allowing upgrades with miles after purchase via its website.
• CUSTOMER SERVICE VIA TEXT: Delta now allows customers to use Apple text messaging for customer service by clicking on “Message Us” in the Fly Delta app.
Security line choices: Standard, PreCheck and Clear
• STANDARD: Standard TSA lines require travelers to remove their coats, shoes and belts; take permitted liquids out of carry-ons, and remove large electronic devices (including tablets and laptops) from bags. There are three checkpoints in the domestic terminal — Main, South and North. The international terminal has its own security checkpoint.
TSA checkpoint hours
Domestic Main: 24 hours
Domestic North and South: 4 a.m.-8 p.m.
International: 5 a.m.-midnight
• TSA PRECHECK: TSA PreCheck offers expedited screening, with the chance to keep on your shoes, belts and jackets and leave liquids in your suitcase. It costs $85 for five years. You can sign up online and schedule an appointment at a PreCheck enrollment center. There is a registration center in Hartsfield-Jackson’s domestic terminal and one on Concourse A.
PreCheck lane hours
Domestic Main: 5 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Domestic North: 5 a.m. to 7 p.m.
International terminal: 6:30 a.m.-9:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m.-5:30 p.m.
• CLEAR: Biometric ID technology firm Clear operates security lines at the Main checkpoint and South checkpoint at Hartsfield-Jackson, selling $179 annual memberships for access to special airport security lines that are often shorter. Delta offers discounted Clear memberships to SkyMiles frequent flyers.
There is a Clear PreCheck line that offers benefits of both Clear lines and PreCheck expedited screening at the main checkpoint with an entrance from the South hallway. There is a Clear standard line at the South checkpoint for non-PreCheck travelers.
• NEW ID REQUIREMENTS COMING: Starting in October 2020, travelers will need a “Real ID” to get through airport security checkpoints. Real ID driver licenses are designated with a star in the top right corner. Most Georgia drivers have the updated Real ID licenses, but those with older licenses that are not Real ID compliant should get new licenses if they plan to use them during air travel in October 2020 or later.
• TSA SMART LANES: Most of the lanes at the Transportation Security Administration’s domestic security checkpoints are automated screening lanes, and this year a different version of automated screening lanes were installed in some lanes at the international terminal’s main checkpoint.
The “smart” automated screening lanes are aimed at speeding the process of security screening, but they require a different process for travelers and can take some getting used to.
If you are in the domestic terminal at an automated screening lane with larger bins and metal conveyors, here’s what you need to know:
(1) If you’re next in line and any of the five bin-loading stations opens up, proceed to it. Don’t just wait behind the person in front of you if there is an empty station available.
(2) Everything must go into a bin, including roll-aboard suitcases and other carry-on luggage. And be aware that oversized carry-on luggage won’t fit, even though the bins are 25 percent larger.
(3) Push the bin onto the conveyor belt, which will automatically move it into the X-ray machine. Then walk through the checkpoint — you don’t have to wait for the person in front of you to finish.
(4) If a bin’s contents need to be manually screened, it is automatically bumped over to an alternate conveyor belt for an officer’s inspection. If your bin clears the X-ray machine, retrieve your belongings on the other side as usual. Then, put your bin on the stack at the end of the lane, where it will be automatically returned to the front of the line via a lower-level conveyor belt.
If you are in the international terminal at an automated screening lane with larger bins and metal conveyors, those lanes also have computed tomography (CT) machines that screen carry-on bags using 3D imagery. Here’s how the system works:
(1) Look for a green indicator light below the bin loading area that shows when a station is available.
(2) After filling a bin with your carry-ons, you can immediately push it forward. The bin will then sit in a middle track, where it is automatically queued onto the conveyor belt. You won’t need to jockey for a spot to push your bin onto a moving conveyor belt.
(3) At the end of screening, you can leave your empty bins on the belt instead of having to stack them at the end. The conveyor belt automatically drops each empty bin onto a stack that is routed back to the start of screening to be reused.
Biometric terminal: Delta has launched the use of facial recognition at Hartsfield-Jackson’s international terminal and on Concourses E and F.
When TSA is testing its facial recognition machines at the international terminal security checkpoint, passengers can have their picture taken instead of presenting ID. The picture will be compared to a passport photo or other photos in government databases to verify identity, then the passenger will be directed to proceed to physical screening.
Those flying Delta or Delta partners Aeromexico, Air France-KLM or Virgin Atlantic direct to an international destination who want to use facial recognition can approach a camera at self-service kiosks, check-in counters and when boarding. Once a green check mark flashes on the screen, the passenger can proceed.
Participating in the facial recognition test is voluntary. Those who do not want to participate can opt out of the process.
Q: Where can international travelers park at the international terminal?
A: The international terminal has a short-term hourly parking garage, as well as a long-term park-ride garage with a 3-minute shuttle bus ride to the terminal, and a Gold Reserve parking lot that requires registration. There are no daily parking or walkable economy parking lots like at the domestic terminal.
Q: Where do international travelers claim their checked bags when arriving in Atlanta?
A: At the international terminal baggage claim area.
Q: What if I go to the wrong terminal?
A: You may still be able to check in for your flight, depending on the airline. But if you can’t check in for your flight or check your bag, don’t worry — you can take a shuttle bus to get to the correct terminal. At the main terminal, the shuttle will be at the ground transportation center on the west end of the terminal. The shuttle ride from one terminal to the other will take 12 minutes. International travelers may want to allow some extra time the first time they use the terminal, in case of any wait or confusion.
Q: How can I get from the airport MARTA station to the international terminal?
A: A free shuttle bus runs between the airport MARTA station and the international terminal 24 hours a day, available to passengers only.
Q: How can visitors to Atlanta get to the rental car center?
A: A separate free shuttle bus will take travelers from the international terminal to the rental car center.
Q: Where do I pick up arriving international passengers?
A: Take I-75, exit 239 to the international terminal, where signs will point you toward the lower-level roadway for arriving passengers.
Q: Does the Plane Train people-mover go to Concourse F?
A: Yes, the train and the pedestrian walkway connect Concourse F with all other concourses. If you’re an Atlanta-bound international passenger going through Customs, you’ll exit into the international terminal arrivals area. You won’t be able to get through security to access the people-mover train to the main terminal, but you can take a shuttle to the main terminal. Also, Atlanta-bound passengers who arrive on Concourse E must walk to the international terminal to collect their baggage and exit. The walk varies from about a quarter mile to six-tenths of a mile, though there are some moving walkways.
Q: Did the international terminal replace international Concourse E?
A: No, the international terminal and 12-gate Concourse F are in addition to the 28-gate Concourse E. They form what the airport calls a “40-gate international air travel complex.”
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