Officials are advising travelers to get to the airport three hours before their flights. Among the potential impediments is a parking shortage at the Atlanta airport due to the closure of the South economy lot last month, along with potential waits to check bags and long lines for security screening. Some security wait times were more than 30 minutes early Wednesday morning.
“It’s the busiest airport,’ said traveler Jeremiah Clark, while waiting in line in the atrium for screening at the main checkpoint early Wednesday morning. He was at the airport more than two hours before his flight. “I travel enough that I’m not surprised,” Clark said. “I was expecting this.”
Hartsfield-Jackson said it screened 32,089 passengers by 8 a.m. Wednesday, making it the biggest morning security rush in the airport’s history.
Thanksgiving Day will be significantly less busy, though there will be some crowds early in the morning with people flying to Thanksgiving supper the day of.
Airport traffic will pick back up again in earnest Sunday as people return from their holiday trips, with about 90,000 people expected through ATL security checkpoints Sunday, and another round of heavy airport crowds on Monday. Counting connecting passengers, Hartsfield-Jackson is expected to handle more than 3.6 million travelers over the 11-day Thanksgiving period, including connecting passengers.
Traveler Abi Adeleke and her friend Autie Scott got to the Atlanta airport three hours before their flights.
“It’s crazy. But we’re doing it because, I mean — I gotta go home,” Adeleke said, on her way to visit her mother in Fayetteville, Arkansas. “Get here early. That’s the best thing to do.”
Nationally, TSA expects this holiday travel season to be the busiest ever.
Robert Spinden, TSA’s federal security director in Atlanta, said the agency brought in more staff and more workers on overtime to handle the crowds at Hartsfield-Jackson on Wednesday, including additional personnel working early in the morning to handle the pre-dawn rush.
TSA planned to keep all of its available screening lanes open in the domestic terminal for much of the day, before winding down in the evening. However, the capacity to screen passengers is still reduced because there are four lanes closed off at the main security checkpoint for construction to upgrade baggage screening equipment.
Spinden also said the number of guns caught at Atlanta airport security checkpoints continues to be a problem. There have been more than 380 firearms intercepted at Hartsfield-Jackson checkpoints so far this year, or an average of more than one a day.
He recommended that those who regularly carry guns set a reminder on their phones to make sure they don’t bring it to the airport checkpoint.
Weapons in the Atlanta airport have caused some major scares.
In October, a taxi driver, a Delta Air Lines employee and an Atlanta police lieutenant were injured during a knife attack at Hartsfield-Jackson. A woman, 44-year-old Damaris Milton, was arrested.
In May, 44-year-old Kenny Wells Jr. was sentenced to a decade in federal prison after his gun went off inside Hartsfield-Jackson in 2021. Officials said he was a felon and was not legally allowed to own a firearm. His gun discharged on Nov. 20, 2021, when he lunged to grab it from his bag as his luggage was being searched by TSA agents at the airport security checkpoint, Atlanta police previously said.