Get there early: Hartsfield-Jackson will be packed for the holidays

Traffic through the Atlanta airport will ramp up to its peak on Friday ahead of Christmas Day
Holiday travelers are filling Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, with troops and other travelers streaming into the terminal on Monday, December 18, 2023.

Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

Holiday travelers are filling Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, with troops and other travelers streaming into the terminal on Monday, December 18, 2023.

Crowds of passengers are streaming into Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport as the busiest period of the Christmas holiday travel season approaches.

Long lines at security checkpoints have been exacerbated by an increase in the number of Transportation Security Administration officers calling out sick.

On Sunday, some travelers waited in line for an hour at the main security checkpoint at the international terminal, where there were fewer screening lanes open because workers were out sick, said TSA spokesman Mark Howell. At the domestic terminal, wait times were 45 minutes during busy periods, he said.

Long lines continued Monday, with some security waits about 40 minutes long.

Hartsfield-Jackson officials advised travelers to get to the airport at least 2.5 hours before their flights, while Delta Air Lines recommends getting to the airport at least 3 hours in advance.

Hartsfield-Jackson opened more security lanes last week after the completion of a year-and-a-half-long project to upgrade equipment and increase the capacity at the main checkpoint. However, operating all of the lanes also requires sufficient staffing.

“The last couple of days, the sick-outs have been a little heavier than usual,” Howell said. “So it caused a bit of a wait time issue.”

He said TSA is working to address the issue as the busiest travel days of the season approach, by staffing up with more overtime.

Heavy traffic is spread across a longer period for the year-end holidays, Howell said. But there are also large waves of travelers that pass through the airport for the holidays.

Travelers pass through a newly reopened lane during a security screening in the domestic terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta on Thursday, December 14, 2023. (Arvin Temkar /


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On Sunday and Monday mornings, troops flying home for the holidays from Fort Eisenhower, near Augusta, and Fort Moore, in Columbus, filled the Atlanta airport, with about 5,000 soldiers flying out Sunday and another 1,500 on Monday.

Thousands of other travelers are also flying for holiday vacations.

Waiting in a line stretching down a corridor to check bags Monday, traveler Ivy Clay said: “The line is crazy.”

“I hope I don’t miss my flight,” said traveler Deandre Franklin, in the same line with Clay to fly to California. “I didn’t know it was worse than LAX.”

Passenger volumes will ramp up this week as the holiday weekend nears. Nearly 70,000 passengers will pass through Atlanta airport security checkpoints today, while more than 75,000 are expected Wednesday. About 84,000 are expected Thursday.

This Friday is expected to be the busiest day of the Christmas holiday period, with nearly 90,000 expected at airport security checkpoints.

Saturday will also be busy, while Christmas Eve and Christmas Day will have lighter traffic.

Howell said on the busiest days during peak periods from 6 to 9 a.m. and 3 to 6 p.m., “give yourself some extra time,” and factor in time to get through highway traffic, congested airport roads and to find parking, in order to get into the terminal at least 2.5 hours before departure.

Nationally, TSA expects to screen 2.5 million passengers a day on the busiest days of the holiday period, including Dec. 21, Dec. 29 and Jan. 1.

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