Hartsfield-Jackson to restrict access to the terminal 24/7

Officials: The new restrictions are aimed at improving safety and security
Travelers are seen in the domestic terminal of Hartsfield-Jackson airport in Atlanta on Friday, June 30, 2023. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Travelers are seen in the domestic terminal of Hartsfield-Jackson airport in Atlanta on Friday, June 30, 2023. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport plans to limit public access to the terminal 24 hours a day, citing concerns about safety and security.

The world’s busiest airport in 2018 announced a policy of limiting access to the facility between 11 p.m. and 4:30 a.m., as it faced a growing issue of homeless people sleeping in the domestic terminal.

During those hours, the airport only allows ticketed passengers, those assisting ticketed passengers including people meeting passengers or dropping them off, and authorized personnel. In 2021 that policy was codified into law.

Now, the airport plans to expand the hours of restricted access, saying the airport will be closed to the general public 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

“We’re going to have 24/7 where we restrict access to the airport to ticketed passengers, those meeting or greeting passengers, those who are employed and those others having ability to do business at the airport,” said Hartsfield-Jackson senior deputy general manager Michael Smith.

Hartsfield-Jackson is a public airport owned and operated by the City of Atlanta.

The new restrictions come as the airport deals with periodic issues of theft from baggage claim carousels, and complaints about unauthorized drivers soliciting passengers.

The airport manager plans in the next 60 days to “further restrict access to facilities at certain ATL locations, namely the Domestic and International Terminals, Sky Train, Rental Car Center, and Parking Decks to facilitate safety and enhance security on the premises of ATL,” according to a document on a proposed measure to change the language in a related ordinance prohibiting loitering at Hartsfield-Jackson.

The change to the loitering ordinance is intended to “mitigate any uncertainty about any exceptions to implementation of the closure of ATL,” according to the document.

A separate city ordinance on the airport’s hours of operation says the hours are designated and posted by the airport manager — and when the airport is closed to the general public, the only people permitted are ticketed passengers, those helping them and airport personnel.

The City Council transportation committee on Wednesday voted in favor of the measure to change the language in the airport loitering ordinance. It next goes to the full council for approval.

The measure says “ATL has experienced an increase in the number of safety and security incidents involving attempted unauthorized access to secure airport areas, prohibited firearm non-disclosure and handling, property damage, indecent exposure, and confrontational violence amid a myriad of other offenses.”

With roughly 60,000 workers and nearly 300,000 passengers passing through Hartsfield-Jackson on a daily basis, the airport has its own police precinct and responds to a variety of incidents on a daily basis — including some significant crimes.

Last October, a woman was arrested after stabbing three people at the Atlanta airport, including a Delta employee, an Atlanta police lieutenant and a taxi driver.

In 2022, a Hapeville man was arrested after gaining access to secure areas of Hartsfield-Jackson without a ticket by posing as an airport employee pushing a passenger in a wheelchair. He later died after a struggle with detention officers who tried to stop him from jumping from the second floor of the Clayton County Jail, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

According to the measure under consideration by City Council, the new policy restricting access to the airport 24 hours a day is expected to benefit “safety and security, operations and facility maintenance” at the airport.

The airport loitering ordinance says it’s unlawful to loiter at Hartsfield-Jackson and to sleep there, except in the case of severe weather, flight delays or other flight disruptions in which a ticketed passenger is stranded at the airport.

Airport officials have said that they don’t want to criminalize homelessness and the ordinance says police shall offer people the opportunity to explain their presence and offer them the opportunity to leave.

The Atlanta Police Department has said its main focus at the airport “is to work to connect individuals experiencing homelessness with social service agencies in effort to provide them assistance.”

Hartsfield-Jackson also has a contract with HOPE Atlanta to relocate homeless people who enter the terminal overnight.

The airport is seeking City Council approval to fund a 90-day extension of the contract with HOPE Atlanta while the city goes through a procurement process for a new contract.