Crowds fill Hartsfield-Jackson terminal ahead of Fourth of July

The security lines at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport backed into the atrium early Friday, July 1, 2022.  The Atlanta airport is expected to handle 1.7 million passengers over a six-day Independence Day travel period. (Kelly Yamanouchi / Kelly.Yamanouchi@ajc.com)

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The security lines at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport backed into the atrium early Friday, July 1, 2022. The Atlanta airport is expected to handle 1.7 million passengers over a six-day Independence Day travel period. (Kelly Yamanouchi / Kelly.Yamanouchi@ajc.com)

Officials expect challenging weekend for air travel across the country ahead of Independence Day.

Crowds of travelers filled Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport early Friday morning as the busy Fourth of July travel period started.

Lines for the main security checkpoint at the domestic terminal of the Atlanta airport stretched into the atrium before 7 a.m., with wait times up to 20 minutes. Lines shortened later in the day after the busy morning traffic passed.

Hartsfield-Jackson is expected to handle 1.7 million passengers over a six-day Independence Day travel period. Atlanta airport General Manager Balram Bheodari said “we have prepared for the onslaught,” but advised travelers to get to the airport early and to check their flight status with airlines.

Delta Air Lines and other carriers are under pressure to get flight cancellations under control after a tumultuous Memorial Day weekend that left many travelers frustrated.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told The Associated Press in an interview that his department could take enforcement actions against airlines that fail to live up to consumer protection standards, but said he first wants to see if there are major flight disruptions over the Fourth of July period and summer.

Friday is one of the busiest travel days of the holiday period, and Tuesday is also expected to be busy at the airport, according to Bheodari.

Robert Spinden, federal security director in Atlanta for the Transportation Security Administration, said “TSA is expecting a very busy summer travel period,” with busy periods bringing more than 80,000 passengers a day through security checkpoints at Hartsfield-Jackson.

Atlanta-based Delta and other airlines posted some flight cancellations on Friday, but fewer than some of the worst weekends of the summer so far.

Delta canceled more than 100 flights Friday, or about 3% of its total flights for the day, according to FlightAware.com. American canceled more than 80 flights Friday, United canceled 24 flights and Southwest canceled 9 flights.

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Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

Delta warned ahead of the Independence Day weekend that it expected “some operational challenges,” and is allowing travelers to easily change their travel plans to avoid “potentially challenging weekend travel days.”

Delta pilots picketed at airports in Atlanta and across the country on Thursday, pushing for a new labor contract and criticizing the airline for how it is managing flight schedules. They say Delta is scheduling more flights than it can handle, and pilots are working record amounts of overtime.

Traveler Deedee Moore said traffic to Hartsfield-Jackson from Knoxville, Tenn., on Friday was “horrendous,” but she was pleased to see her flight was on time for a trip to Hawaii. “We’re kind of wondering what it’ll be like coming back. We’ll see if it’s on time,” she said.

Moore was concerned about flight delays, after her niece last weekend had a Delta trip delayed for a day and a half.

“They kept rescheduling,” she said.