Hartsfield-Jackson parking squeeze causes travel hassles

A traveler walks toward the north terminal from the parking deck at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. JASON GETZ

A traveler walks toward the north terminal from the parking deck at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. JASON GETZ

Airport parking is becoming one of the biggest hassles at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, with travelers often encountering full decks and lots and even some off-airport lots running out of spaces at times.

The parking squeeze is caused by an increase in the volume of travelers flying to and from Atlanta and is being exacerbated by airport construction. On top of that, growth of Uber and Lyft is pushing aside some parking, with the airport's rideshare pickup areas to occupy space that had been dedicated to parking.

"We're seeing a tremendous amount" of local passengers, said Tom Nissalke, the airport's interim assistant general manager of planning.

And even worse: The problem won’t get much better anytime soon.

For years to come, construction for Hartsfield-Jackson's $6 billion expansion and modernization program will take up a sizable footprint on the airport's limited space and cause the airport to close off some parking areas.

“We’ll lose a lot of economy and park-ride,” Nissalke said.

Eventually, the airport will launch a massive years-long phased project to demolish and reconstruct the Terminal North and South parking decks, which will cause the loss of thousands of spaces during construction. The airport is building replacement parking to be used during construction and in the future.

But overall when it comes to parking, the airport will have “a deficit here for a while,” Nissalke said. The parking supply is “just going to be up and down for years.”

What’s more, changing dynamics in transportation are making it more challenging for the airport to forecast how much parking it will need to construct for the long-term future.

With Uber and Lyft sprouting up in recent years as alternatives to driving to the airport, that could put a damper on growth in demand for parking.

And the development of self-driving car technology could also significantly alter demand for parking in future years.

Hartsfield-Jackson previously planned to demolish the Terminal North and South parking garages and rebuild both of them twice as large to double the amount of parking spaces.

But it has since scaled back those plans to rebuild only a four-level deck on the Terminal North side, and may further reduce the size of the new decks due to potential changes in parking demand in future decades.

“We’re at an interesting point in the evolution of automobiles,” Nissalke said.

Meanwhile, the parking squeeze continues and is worsening as the busy summer travel season ramps up.

There are steps travelers can take to try to alleviate some of the hassle and frustration of finding parking at the airport.

Airport parking activity “peaks during the spring and summer months,” according to Hartsfield-Jackson parking operations director Katie Stanciel, with Tuesday and Wednesday the most crowded. Daily and economy lots fill up quickly, but hourly lots and some park-ride lots can also reach capacity.

Some off-airport lots allow advance reservations on their websites to ensure a spot. The airport also has membership-based Gold Reserve parking near the terminal, though the service is intended for frequent airport parkers and costs a minimum of $408 a year.

The airport's website also allows travelers to check availability of parking online — though lots can fill up quickly as the day progresses. The airport's parking options include hourly, daily, economy and park-ride options with different rates. There are also about 10 different private off-airport lots with varying rates and options.

Travelers should allow extra time and be ready to look for back-up options at the airport or at off-airport lots on Camp Creek Parkway.

“As soon as people realize they can’t park at the airport, that’s when they come to our facility,” said Anne Kozel, vice president of marketing for Atlanta-based Park ‘N Fly, which has two locations off Camp Creek Parkway, including one just off I-85 and another, Park ‘N Fly Plus, which has pet boarding and a Jiffy Lube on site.

“There’s a lot of options outside the airport,” Kozel said. With off-airport locations also reaching capacity during busy periods, Park ‘N Fly recently launched an app allowing travelers to make a parking reservation.

The construction of massive canopies over the curbside area at the airport means if travelers are circling the airport looking for parking, it can take even longer. Congestion around construction areas can cause backup and delays around the terminal.

The price tag for the canopies and other terminal improvements is $265 million, which is $102.5 million more than originally expected.

Uber or Lyft or other ground transportation to the airport sidesteps the parking hassle. But travelers and those picking up passengers should still allow extra time to navigate construction areas and congestion at the airport curbside.

MARTA takes travelers right to the domestic terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson, and some MARTA stations have long-term parking for a fee.

But for those boarding international flights, it takes a 15-minute shuttle ride to travel between the Airport MARTA station and the international terminal.

Airport parking options and alternatives