Hartsfield-Jackson is among the most connected ‘megahubs’

Passengers walk through Concourse D at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Thursday, July 7, 2022.  (Natrice Miller/natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Passengers walk through Concourse D at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Thursday, July 7, 2022. (Natrice Miller/natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Hartsfield-Jackson International became the world’s busiest airport not because of Atlanta’s draw alone, but because tens of millions of people connect to other destinations through the hub every year.

While the Atlanta airport might be tops in the world for the number of passengers flowing through it each year, it’s only second in the U.S. in a separate ranking of global “megahubs” by travel data firm OAG. Hartsfield-Jackson remained the No. 2 U.S. domestic connecting hub this year, behind Chicago O’Hare International Airport. The index is based on the number of scheduled connections compared to the number of destinations served by the airport.

When it comes to international connectivity, Hartsfield-Jackson comes in lower, at No. 14, behind London Heathrow in the No. 1 spot. The U.S. hubs ahead of Atlanta for international connections are New York’s John F. Kennedy International at No. 2 and O’Hare at No. 10.

The resurgence of international hubs indicates continued recovery of international travel, with capacity rebounded to about 98% of pre-pandemic levels, according to OAG chief analyst John Grant.

Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines operates its largest hub at Hartsfield-Jackson, and together with its partners controls about 79% of the traffic at the Atlanta airport. Delta connects from Atlanta to cities all over, from international destinations to smaller U.S. towns.

Last week, the airline announced it will launch flights from Hartsfield-Jackson to Fresno and Santa Barbara in California, starting June 7, 2024.

Although Hartsfield-Jackson is a major connecting hub, some of the biggest growth it has seen recently has been from increased travel to and from Atlanta.

The resurgence of traffic has driven long lines and congestion, including heavier crowds at check-in counters and security checkpoints.

Security wait times at Hartsfield-Jackson sometimes exceed half an hour even during non-peak periods, such as early afternoons.

The Transportation Security Administration said it has screened more passengers so far this year in Atlanta than ever, “and it appears that the increase in throughput is continuing to stay high this month,” according to TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein.

TSA is putting some TSA officers in training this month, when traffic typically eases from summer highs, according to Farbstein, But last Friday and Monday had traffic well beyond traditional Labor Day end-of-summer travel volumes, she said. That contributed to long lines and wait times for travelers going through security screening.