Holiday travel guide to Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Int’l Airport

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Travelers should be aware of the potential for frustrations when parking at the airport and at security checkpoints

It’s time for the holiday rush at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, and this season there are new pinch points that could cause travel hassles and delays.

Construction has reduced parking availability at the domestic terminal, and work at the main security checkpoint is causing congestion and long waits for screening.

Here’s a guide on the latest updates, so you’re prepared to navigate the world’s busiest airport and get to your destination safely.

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

GET TO THE AIRPORT EARLY

The best way to avoid missing your flight is to get to the airport early and allow extra time to navigate potential detours and delays.

Hartsfield-Jackson is advising travelers to get to the airport 2.5-3 hours before their flights.

You may need extra time to:

  • Find parking: Because construction has blocked off thousands of spaces in the domestic terminal parking decks, the airport’s parking lots often reach capacity, forcing travelers to search elsewhere for spaces. Shuttle service may also be operated less frequently than you’re used to, requiring longer waits.
  • Check bags: During peak periods, travelers may encounter long lines at airline ticket counters to check bags.
  • Get special assistance: Some wheelchair handling contractors are short-staffed, requiring longer waits. Airport officials are advising passengers who need wheelchair service to arrive four hours early.
  • Go through security: Hartsfield-Jackson is warning that security waits on regular days can reach more than 20-30 minutes, and even longer during peak holiday travel times. Exacerbating the situation is a massive revamp of the main security checkpoint, with some lanes blocked off for construction. That’s causing long lines that sometimes stretch through the terminal and into baggage claim areas. TSA PreCheck and Clear lines can also get lengthy during busy periods. You can get online updates on parking and security wait times at atl.com/times.
  • Buy food or beverages: Concessions may be limited and those that are open may have long lines for food during peak periods.

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

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

WHAT TO PACK

Masks are no longer federally required in airports or on planes.

The Transportation Security Administration allows extra flexibility for hand sanitizer at checkpoints, permitting one bottle of up to 12 oz. of hand sanitizer per passenger in carry-on bags. You will need to allow extra time at security for the bottle to be screened separately, since it’s larger than the typical limit of 3.4 oz. on other liquids. You can also bring disinfecting wipes in carry-on bags to wipe down surfaces in the airport or on the plane, if desired. Hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes are also permitted in checked bags.

ExploreHartsfield-Jackson still tops nation in guns found at airport checkpoints

Make sure you don’t pack prohibited weapons or other items in your bags. You can check TSA’s website to learn what’s prohibited.

TSA recommends travelers avoid wrapping gifts if possible. If a wrapped item triggers an alarm during screening, a security officer will need to unwrap it to determine if it is a security threat. Jams, jellies and syrups are considered liquids and cannot be in carry-on bags if the container is larger than 3.4 oz.

PARKING

Parking is causing frustrations for many travelers due to construction to shore up the domestic terminal decks. The airport has blocked off thousands of parking spaces to complete the work, and when parking decks and lots at the domestic terminal fill up, motorists looking for spots get turned away.

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Economy parking near the terminal now costs $14 a day while daily parking is $19 a day. Hourly parking costs $3 per hour for the first and second hours.

There are other choices, and it helps to plan ahead and be prepared.

Consider taking MARTA to the airport. You can take a train to the MARTA Airport Station inside the domestic terminal. A few stations on the Red Line and Gold Line have long-term parking for $5 or $8 per day. Find more information on the MARTA website.

There are a variety of off-airport parking lots along Camp Creek Parkway and other locations around the airport. It’s a good idea to check with your off-airport parking lot operator for any changes or new policies. Private off-airport parking lots can also fill up quickly, and may turn away motorists who don’t have a reservation. Consider booking a space online at a private off-airport lot.

Two new airport-run parking options opened in 2021: The ATL West deck and the ATL Select parking lot.

The new ATL West parking deck at 4199 SkyTrain Way in College Park is connected to the domestic terminal by SkyTrain and allows you to pay via Peach Pass. It costs $16 a day, which is more than economy parking but less than daily parking.

The new ATL Select park-ride lot is located at 1800 Sullivan Road in College Park, a new option after the closure of Park Ride Lot A to make way for construction of a taxiway end-around. The ATL Select lot costs $10 a day for uncovered parking, which is the same price as Park Ride Lot C that’s also now open. ATL Select covered parking costs $14 a day, the same rate as economy parking.

While the ATL West deck and ATL Select lot offer more spaces, they sometimes reach capacity.

CELL PHONE LOT CHANGE

Hartsfield-Jackson has relocated its cell phone lot.

The new cellphone lot is farther from the terminal, but more centrally located for motorists going to both Terminal South and Terminal North to pick up friends or family arriving on flights.

“Meeter-greeters” can now wait in a lot west of the terminal, with the new cell phone lot occupying part of the hold lot used by taxi and shuttle drivers. Motorists should follow signs to the cellphone lot on message boards along airport roads.

AIRPORT SECURITY

Hartsfield-Jackson has three checkpoints in the domestic terminal, including the Main checkpoint, the North checkpoint, and an expanded South checkpoint. It also opened a new overflow checkpoint on the lower level of Terminal North, which is used during certain peak periods.

If you’re a PreCheck member, go to the South checkpoint, which has CT (computed tomography) machines at automated smart lanes. Non-PreCheck members can use the Main or North checkpoints.

The Main checkpoint has several lanes closed due to construction, causing wait times of 40 minutes or more during busy periods, with long lines and backup through the terminal. Passengers may be routed to another checkpoint, such as the overflow checkpoint during busy periods.

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

TSA uses credential authentication technology to scan photo IDs at checkpoints at Hartsfield-Jackson and many other airports. The technology can better detect fraudulent IDs and is linked to a pre-screening database to confirm flight details without scanning a boarding pass.

SECURITY LINE CHOICES:

Standard, PreCheck and Clear. You can check the airport’s website at atl.com/times for security wait times.

STANDARD:

Standard TSA lines require travelers to remove their coats, shoes and belts; take permitted liquids out of carry-ons, and remove large electronic devices (including tablets and laptops) from bags.

TSA PRECHECK:

The TSA PreCheck lines at the domestic terminal are at the South checkpoint, instead of at the Main checkpoint as they have been in the past.

TSA PreCheck offers expedited screening, with the chance to keep on your shoes, belt and jacket and leave liquids in your suitcase. TSA recently reduced the cost to enroll in PreCheck to $78 for five years, down from $85. It still costs $70 to renew online.

TSA has encouraged travelers to sign up for PreCheck to get through screening more efficiently and reduce touchpoints such as the need to handle a bin in some cases.

You can apply online and schedule an appointment at a PreCheck enrollment center.

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

CLEAR:

Biometric ID technology firm Clear operates specially designated security lines for its members at Hartsfield-Jackson. The company sells memberships for $189 a year, with discounts for Delta SkyMiles members. Clear members at the checkpoint can verify their identities through an iris scan.

The Clear line at the South checkpoint is now for PreCheck-enrolled Clear members. The Clear line at the Main checkpoint is for non-PreCheck Clear members going through standard security.

TSA SMART LANES:

Most of the lanes at the Transportation Security Administration’s domestic security checkpoints are automated screening lanes.

The “smart” automated screening lanes are aimed at speeding the process of security screening, but they require a different process for travelers and can take some getting used to.

If you are in the domestic terminal at an automated screening lane with larger bins and metal conveyors, here’s what you need to know:

  1. If you’re next in line and any of the bin-loading stations opens up, proceed to it. Don’t just wait behind the person in front of you if there is an empty station available.
  2. Everything must go into a bin, including roll-aboard suitcases and other carry-on luggage. And be aware that oversized carry-on luggage won’t fit, even though the bins are 25% larger.
  3. Push the bin forward. Then walk through the checkpoint — you don’t have to wait for the person in front of you to finish.
  4. If a bin’s contents need to be manually screened, it is automatically bumped over to an alternate conveyor belt for an officer’s inspection. If your bin clears the X-ray machine, retrieve your belongings on the other side as usual.

REAL ID DELAY:

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government delayed plans to start requiring travelers to have “Real ID” designated driver licenses or IDs to get through airport security checkpoints. The “Real ID” requirement will now take effect May 3, 2023. Most Georgia drivers have the updated Real ID licenses with a star in the top right corner but those with older licenses that are not Real ID compliant should get new licenses if they plan to use them during air travel in May 2023 or later.

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

AT THE AIRPORT

There are now upper-level pedestrian bridges connecting the domestic terminal to the upper levels of the Terminal South and Terminal North parking decks. Take elevators or stairs up from the parking decks to reach the pedestrian bridges that connect to the terminal.

Airport officials suggest passengers consider walking to their concourse through the underground walkways instead of taking the Plane Train people-mover, to avoid crowds and reduce congestion on the train. The airport’s Transportation Mall underground walkways have art and exhibits on display between concourses.

Due to construction of a Plane Train extension and new escalators and elevators, travelers who arrive on flights in Atlanta and need to use elevators (such as for strollers or wheelchairs) must exit at Concourse T. During certain nighttime construction periods, all travelers must walk from Concourse T to the domestic terminal and baggage claim. Listen for announcements on the Plane Train and signs that direct travelers to baggage claim.

CONCESSIONS

Some concessions at the airport have not yet fully reopened with regular hours. Those that are open sometimes have long lines or waits for food. Hartsfield-Jackson has information on its website on which concessions are open.

If you buy food in the domestic terminal before going through security, be aware that you cannot bring liquids of more than 3.4 oz. through the security checkpoint and officers may ask travelers to separate some food from carry-ons for screening in X-ray machines.

Although you can’t bring beverages through screening, you can bring an empty water bottle from home and fill it up at filling stations on the concourses, or you can buy a beverage after passing through security.

AIRLINES

You can use airlines’ apps and websites to check in online and seek customer service, reducing touchpoints and crowds at the airport.

Major carriers including Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines have discontinued many of their change fees, making it easier for people to change their travel plans.

Delta in June started boarding many of its domestic flights earlier to improve on-time performance. The airline increased the time allowed for boarding single-aisle, narrow-body planes to 40 minutes from 35 minutes.

If you have a Delta Sky Club membership or plan to go to a Sky Club during your trip, be aware that some of them have long lines and wait times to enter during peak periods. The rebound in travel combined with extensions of elite frequent flier status during the pandemic is causing congestion inside the airport lounges.

TERMINAL SOUTH

  • Delta

TERMINAL NORTH

  • Southwest
  • American
  • Frontier
  • Spirit
  • JetBlue
  • United
  • Alaska Airlines
  • Boutique Airlines
  • Southern Airways Express

INTERNATIONAL TERMINAL

  • Delta
  • Air Canada
  • Air France
  • British Airways
  • Copa Airlines
  • KLM
  • Korean Air
  • Lufthansa
  • Qatar Airways
  • Turkish Airlines
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • WestJet

UBER, LYFT PICKUP ZONES:

The airport has an Uber/Lyft Rideshare Pickup Zone near the Terminal North economy lot, about a five-minute walk from the terminal.

There are no Uber and Lyft pickup areas at Terminal South. Drop-offs before your flight will still be at curbside.

To get to the Rideshare Pickup Zone, walk through the Terminal North baggage claim, then take an escalator down to the lower level. Exit out to the curbside and follow orange signs to walk across the crosswalk, go into the parking deck, turn left at the sign and follow the path. Cross over another crosswalk to the pickup zone and then request your ride after arriving.

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Find more travel tips at AJC.com/travel