Atlanta airport, Georgia roads see rising holiday travel amid omicron

Passengers cross the atrium at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021. Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Combined ShapeCaption
Passengers cross the atrium at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021. Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Number of drivers, fliers could rebound close to pre-pandemic levels

Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is preparing for crowds over the busy holiday travel period as more Georgians also likely hit the roads this year, despite the spread of the omicron variant of COVID-19.

Atlanta airport officials expect to handle about 3.7 million passengers between Monday and Jan. 4. That is up from 2020, and on par with pre-pandemic levels.

The Transportation Security Administration said earlier this month it was readying for “near pre-pandemic travel volumes” through the December holidays. More than 2 million passengers a day have passed through airport security checkpoints nationally for the past four days.

Officials are advising travelers to get to Atlanta’s airport at least two hours before their flights. During the busiest periods of the Thanksgiving travel period last month, security lines stretched through the domestic terminal atrium and into the baggage claim area.

ExploreHoliday travel guide to Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson Intl Airport

Rising COVID-19 infections tied to the omicron variant are prompting concerns about traveling among some people.

The number of travelers could fluctuate if some people change plans last minute, the auto club AAA acknowledged last week.

Still, AAA forecasts 109.5 million people nationally will travel more than 50 miles between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2, up 34% from 2020 and 8% below 2019 levels.

Most will be driving, while 6.4 million people across the country are expected to fly. That’s more than double the numbers of air travelers last year, but down 13% from 2019 levels.

“Americans who canceled their vacations in 2020 want to gather with family and friends for the holidays this year, although they will still need to be mindful of the pandemic,” said AAA vice president Debbie Haas in a written statement.

About 3.4 million people in Georgia are forecast to travel for the holiday period according to AAA — up 34% from last year but still 3.8% below record 2019 levels. Of the total, 172,566 are expected to fly.

Delta Air Lines said last week it expects to handle at least 7.8 million customers from Dec. 17 through Jan. 3, more than double 2020 levels but down from 9.3 million during the 2019 holiday period.

The airline’s chief executive, Ed Bastian, said last week he expected “a really strong holiday period” for the Christmas and New Year’s holiday, and had not yet seen any significant impact from the omicron variant on domestic travel. Since then, though, COVID-19 cases have continued to rise.