New international terminal up and running

Atlanta's new $1.4 billion international terminal is up and running, with passengers checking in for international flights in the spacious new departures hall and others arriving at the facility from foreign countries.

The launch of the 1.2 million-square-foot international terminal marks a historic change for Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport by opening a second entrance to the airport for passengers boarding nonstop international flights. Those international passengers will now take I-75 to get to the new terminal on the east side of the airport. The main terminal off I-85, now to be called the domestic terminal, will continue to be used by passengers taking flights within the United States and U.S. territories.

The new entrance could confuse travelers who are accustomed to the longtime single entrance to the airport off I-85. The airport orchestrated an elaborate unveiling of highway signs overnight to direct passengers to the two entrances starting Wednesday morning. Many use an airplane symbol rather than the word "Airport," a relatively new shift for Atlanta area signs to an international symbol for airports.

Lingkoya Washington of Alpharetta said she wasn't sure which terminal to go to for her flight to Montego Bay, Jamaica Wednesday.

"I just kept reading the signs," Washington said, and thought, "‘Am I supposed to go there?' It was just something brand new." She ended up taking her typical route to the main terminal. She said she asked at the Delta ticket counters where she should go, and was told to head to the international terminal. Rather than take the free shuttle, she went back up I-85 and down I-75. "It was fine, since I had time to spare," said Washington, who left for the airport four hours before her flight.

A Sweet Auburn Market Cafe with local and gourmet food items and to-go sandwiches and salads was open first thing in the morning in the departures hall, but not all concessions were open early Wednesday, including a CNN International News shop in the arrivals hall. And inside the terminal's new Concourse F, concessionaires were still rushing in the morning to finish preparations for the opening. Hartsfield-Jackson concessions director Paul Brown said most of the locations expected to be ready for the opening would be operating by the end of the day.

Final contracts for concessions in the new terminal were delayed until mid-March by legal challenges to the city's contracting decision. The legal tussle left only two months for construction of the spaces. In April, Hartsfield-Jackson acknowledged that not all of the concessions planned for the international terminal would be ready in time, including a Starbucks, a flagship airport location of Ecco and a large Jekyll Island Seafood Co. restaurant. Also delayed until later are sleep units and some other amenities planned for the international terminal.

Losing concessionaires had raised allegations that the concessions contracting decisions were influenced by political connections and relationships, and claimed there were flaws in the evaluations of concessions proposals. The losing firms' protests and appeals have been denied, settled or dropped, but there is still a possibility of lawsuits in the future.

Along with adding a new 12-gate Concourse F, the international terminal eliminates the cumbersome need for Atlanta-bound international passengers to recheck their bags after going through Customs before going back through the airport and leaving from the main terminal. Now, those passengers can claim their bags once and exit directly through the international terminal.

Tanya Petty, who flew into Atlanta from South Africa on Wednesday, said when taking the trip in the past, "We ad to go through another check; it was a nightmare."

Now, "This is easy. You're in and out within no time," Petty said. "It's just very efficient."

Although the international terminal is already up and running for passengers checking in and arriving from international flights, the first flight off the new Concourse F comes later Wednesday. It will depart at 1:25 p.m. to Tokyo on Delta Air Lines.

The first flight arriving on Concourse F will be a Delta flight from Dublin at 2:05 p.m.