Holiday travel guide to Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Intl Airport

Delta Air Lines employees assist customers in the Domestic Terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta on Tuesday, October 5, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Caption
Delta Air Lines employees assist customers in the Domestic Terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta on Tuesday, October 5, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Travelers are returning to the skies as the COVID-19 pandemic continues

It’s time for the holiday rush at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, and this year is expected to be significantly busier than last year as more travelers return to the skies.

But the pandemic isn’t over, and many policies and impacts related to COVID-19 continue to shape the travel experience. The airport also has added facilities, including new parking options and pedestrian bridges.

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

COVID-19 MEASURES

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention recommends that those who are not fully vaccinated should avoid travel if possible, but that those who are fully vaccinated can safely travel within the United States. The CDC recommends avoiding travel to a number of international destinations with high COVID-19 levels, listed at wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/noticescovid19.

Masks are still federally required in airports and on planes, as well as on buses, trains and other forms of public transportation through Jan. 18, 2022.

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.

WHAT TO PACK

Bring a mask, since masks are required in the airport and on planes. For a multi-day trip, bring an extra mask or two in case you lose one, or cough or sneeze into one. Hartsfield-Jackson will provide a free mask on request at the main security checkpoint if you forget yours.

The Transportation Security Administration allows extra flexibility for hand sanitizer, 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.

If you have a vaccination card, consider bringing a copy of it with you or keeping an image of the card on your phone, in case any restaurants or venues you visit during your trip require it.

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.

Our picks this week

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For our full coverage of holiday events around metro Atlanta, check out the AJC’s Atlanta Winter Guide.

IN THE AIR

Masks

With federal law requiring airline passengers to wear masks on planes and in airports, those who refuse to wear a mask will not be permitted through security checkpoints and may be subject to a civil penalty, according to TSA. Major airlines are banning passengers who refuse to comply. If you are put on a no-fly list for not wearing a mask on the plane, it could jeopardize your ability to get on a connecting flight or take your return flight back home.

If you forget your mask, the airport can supply one to you at the main security checkpoint.

Cabin environment

Delta is no longer blocking middle seats on its planes, and no longer boarding planes from back to front to minimize crowding in the aisles. The airline has returned to normal seating and boarding procedures.

Airlines have touted the role of HEPA filters and vertical air flows that limit the spread of particles among passengers on a plane.

Delta, Southwest and other airlines have stopped allowing longer emotional support animals in the cabin.

Delta now has two in-flight Wi-Fi providers, Gogo and Viasat.

AT THE AIRPORT

Hartsfield-Jackson may look a little different than you’re used to, with plexiglass dividers, social distancing markers, new facilities and some closed concessions amid the pandemic. But all concourses have reopened, after closures last year.

The airport has hand sanitizer dispensers throughout the terminal. Officials say public areas of the airport are being cleaned more frequently. Concessionaires and airlines have added more touchless options.

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.

CONCESSIONS

While more than 80% of concessions locations at Hartsfield-Jackson are now open, some restaurants and shops remain closed, and airlines have changed their in-flight service amid the pandemic. So consider bringing protein bars or other snacks or food for your trip, while keeping in mind the limits on liquids.

If you plan to 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 if there are concessions open near your gate you can buy a beverage there after passing through security.

Hartsfield-Jackson has information on its website on which concessions are open.

In the domestic terminal atrium, Starbucks, Popeyes, Burger King, TGI Fridays, Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, Piedmont Park TravelMart, Z Market and Atlanta ChopHouse are open. Still closed are IHOP, Shane’s Rib Shack and Teriyaki Experience.

There is now an XpresCheck COVID-19 testing location at Hartsfield-Jackson, on Concourse E. It was previously an XpresSpa location.

HOW EARLY SHOULD YOU GET TO THE AIRPORT?

Officials in Atlanta recommend getting to the airport terminal at least two hours before domestic flights and three hours before international flights.

You can get updates on parking and security wait times at the airport’s website: atl.com.

If you are picking up or dropping off family or friends at the domestic terminal, the airport recommends using the Terminal North and Terminal South upper levels.

ALLOW EXTRA TIME TO:

|Navigate airport roads

|Find parking

|Check oversized bags

|Get special assistance — Some wheelchair handling contractors are short-staffed, requiring longer waits.

|Travel with pets/animals (Keep your pet in its carrier and try to avoid any checkpoints with a working TSA dog, since other animals — including service animals — can distract the working dog.)

PARKING:

Hartsfield-Jackson has opened two new park-ride options in the last year and reopened other parking lots.

The airport previously reduced its parking rates due to COVID-19, but has now raised the rates back up to pre-pandemic levels. Airport shuttles are back to normal operations.

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.

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.

There are also 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.

UBER, LYFT PICKUP ZONES: Uber and Lyft pickups at the domestic terminal were previously moved to the lower level curbside during the pandemic when traffic plummeted.

But now the airport is again directing passengers to an Uber/Lyft Rideshare Pickup Zone near the Terminal North economy lot, about a five-minute walk from the terminal.

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

To get to the new 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.

AIRLINES

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

Delta has eliminated its $75 fee for most customers who want to stand by for an earlier flight on the day they are scheduled to travel domestically.

The airline has also temporarily waived its restrictions on basic economy tickets for travel through Dec. 31, 2021, due to backups on customer service phone lines. While basic economy tickets normally do not allow any changes to the itinerary, Delta is allowing changes to be made online without paying a change fee through the end of this year.

If you are traveling internationally, remember that U.S. citizens and permanent residents returning to the U.S. by air will need to show a negative COVID-19 test or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 before boarding. The CDC lays out specific requirements on its webpage for international travel. Before your trip, check also for travel restrictions for countries you will be entering. Delta has an interactive map to show travel requirements for different destinations. Southwest lists on its website its destinations with operational restrictions. The CDC also has travel health notices for different countries and the State Department issues country-specific travel advisories.

DELTA FACIAL RECOGNITION

Delta has added facial recognition in the domestic terminal for frequent fliers who qualify.

The airline has used facial recognition in the international terminal for a few years, but its pilot program expands the use of the technology to those flying domestically.

Facial recognition is an option for Delta domestic passengers out of Atlanta who meet certain criteria: they have a passport, are members of the TSA’s PreCheck trusted traveler program, are Delta SkyMiles members with their passport information and Known Traveler Number in their profile, and check in via Delta’s app.

If they are checking in for a domestic flight, they will be asked on the Delta app if they want to opt in to the facial recognition pilot program that’s a partnership with the TSA.

Those who opt in can go to a new lower level “PreCheck Express bag drop” room with facial recognition camera stations to print out bag tags and drop luggage on a conveyor belt.

Delta also has the cameras at its gates on Concourse T, where those who are part of the pilot program can notify the gate agent during boarding to use facial recognition instead of scanning a boarding pass.

AIRPORT SECURITY

Hartsfield-Jackson has three checkpoints in the domestic terminal, including the Main checkpoint, the North checkpoint, and an expanded South checkpoint.

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

At the international terminal, the main security checkpoint has reopened.

You may be asked to briefly shift your mask for the TSA officer to verify your identity.

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.

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. It costs $85 for five years and $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.

CLEAR:

Biometric ID technology firm Clear operates specially designated security lines for its members at Hartsfield-Jackson. The company sells memberships for $179 a year, with discounts for Delta SkyMiles members.

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.

REAL ID DELAY:

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government has 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.

TERMINAL SOUTH |Delta

TERMINAL NORTH |Southwest |American |Frontier |Spirit |JetBlue |United |Alaska Airlines |Boutique Airlines

INTERNATIONAL TERMINAL |Delta |Air Canada |Air France |British Airways |Copa Airlines |KLM |Korean Air |Lufthansa |Qatar Airways |Turkish Airlines |Virgin Atlantic

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