Stranded travelers rest in the main terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport during a severe winter storm in February 2014. More than 1,800 flights were cancelled at that time.
Photo: ERIK S. LESSER
Photo: ERIK S. LESSER

Hartsfield-Jackson Airport weighs terminal hotel

Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is studying the idea of building an airport hotel, either inside or connected to the domestic terminal.

Other airports have terminal hotels, including Chicago O’Hare and Dallas/Fort Worth, which offer travelers the convenience of a place to stay just steps away from the airline check-in area or gate.

A terminal hotel is especially convenient for travelers who get stranded when their flights are canceled, Hartsfield-Jackson interim general manager Miguel Southwell said. The world’s busiest airport became a makeshift hotel earlier this year when storms led to thousands of flight cancellations.

Numerous hotels surround the airport, and there are a couple near the Georgia International Convention Center along the SkyTrain line to the airport’s remote rental car center. The only option within the airport is the Minute Suites sleep units, usually rented for a few hours at a time.

“We believe that a world-class airport should have a world-class hotel,” Southwell said. “The question is whether it’s financially viable.”

Airport officials emphasized they are early in the stages of study, and the idea could ultimately be nixed.

Southwell said the airport has had consulting firms study the issues of “buildability” and finances. He expects airport management will decide whether to move forward in about 90 days.

If it is feasible, yet to be determined is exactly where a hotel could be built, how large it would be, how much it would cost and how it would be financed: whether by the airport, the city, with a developer, with an investor or in some other way.

The airport’s domestic terminal is currently surrounded by parking garages, but those are decades old and would be costly to repair, while the airport needs additional parking spaces, Southwell said. A revamp of parking could affect the possible location of a new hotel.

As the airport weighs how it might revamp parking, it is considering the terminal hotel idea.

Southwell, previously deputy director for Miami International Airport, said the Miami airport terminal hotel has higher occupancy rates and room rates than surrounding hotels. Travelers are attracted by the “incredible convenience,” he said.

Southwell said the evaluation of the airport hotel idea is separate from the airport master plan, which is set to be completed later this year and will consider everything from a sixth runway to a terminal expansion for the next 15 years or more.

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