“We are doing our best to be prepared for the upcoming holiday periods,” she said. “For Atlanta travelers, planning and patience will go a long way.”
The busy holiday period comes as the airport is in the midst of an array of construction projects that have caused disruptions for travelers. One project has just been completed: New escalators and elevators on Concourse T to the Plane Train tunnel opened Friday. Brown said the $60 million project will increase efficiency in one of the airport’s most congested areas.
Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines will see a 6% increase in customers during this period compared to last year, according to company representatives. Friday was the airlines’ busiest day, with large crowds also expected the Sunday and Monday after the holiday.
Delta also advised travelers to get to the airport three hours before their flights instead of two hours as in the past. That’s due to long security waits and parking shortages at Hartsfield-Jackson.
“That is a change,” said Joe Miller, Delta’s vice president of the Atlanta hub, noting the airline is providing that recommendation in communications to customers. “We want everybody to make their flight.”
The Thanksgiving traffic is spread out over more more than a week and a half, and the busiest days are still not expected to top peak days in July, according to Miller. Of the 16 busiest days in history for checkpoint screening at Hartsfield-Jackson, 15 of them were this year, according to Miller. The only time there have been more passengers at security checkpoints was the Monday after the Super Bowl in Atlanta in 2019, when a record of nearly 102,000 passengers were screened.
“Every holiday weekend we’ve had in Atlanta has been exceptionally high volume and we don’t see any difference with Thanksgiving this year,” said Transportation Security Administration spokesman Mark Howell.
One of the lightest days, however, will be Thanksgiving Day itself, when fewer people take to the skies.
To help handle the influx of holiday passengers, Delta is calling back to work 300 seasonal employees in Atlanta, to help customers with checking bags, wheelchairs and unaccompanied minors. Request for those services spikes during the holidays, Miller said.
Delta also enlists some of its employees to assist travelers to prepare for security screening at checkpoints.
The airline struggled with operational issues over the summer due to maintenance problems and other factors that caused flight disruptions. But Miller said Delta has improved its on-time performance since the summer, as well as its baggage handling performance.
Long lines snaking through the terminal have plagued Hartsfield-Jackson for months during busy periods, with some security waits reaching an hour and a half or longer over Columbus Day weekend.
Airport officials say they are working to avoid such problems during Thanksgiving.
But one key obstacle continues through the Thanksgiving travel period: There are four lanes closed off at the main security checkpoint, reducing the number of passengers that can be screened each hour at the airport. The lanes are closed for a construction project to replace baggage screening equipment at the checkpoint, and the work underway for more than a year isn’t expected to be completed until after Thanksgiving.
“We knew this phase would be the most challenging of all of them,” Miller said.
He said opening security checkpoints earlier helps. “We will see customers come in as early as 3 or 3:30 in the morning,” he said.
Robert Spinden, the federal security director for TSA, said travelers need to be coincident of their travel-on items. At a Friday news conference, he showed a framed and matted photograph of a handgun and ammunition seized earlier that morning, making it the 381st firearm intercepted at Hartsfield-Jackson so far in 2023.
“If you need to travel with your firearm, it cannot be in your carryon bag,” Spinden said.
Those planning to park at the airport should also be aware of a major change at Hartsfield-Jackson: The airport closed its South economy parking lot last month to allow for construction of a parking deck on the site. It will take three years to complete.
It means a reduction in parking available next to the terminal, after a shortage of parking was already causing many airport lots and decks to reach capacity during busy periods.
Those planning to park at the airport should consider making a parking reservation in advance, or using an alternative such as MARTA.
Besides flying, more than 2 million Georgians are expected to drive more than 50 miles during this holiday season, according to AAA. That’s the second highest number since 2020, lagging slightly behind last year.
AAA spokesman Garrett Townsend said gas prices statewide are roughly 16 cents cheaper than last Thanksgiving.