City vows fix for slow airport shuttles that outraged passengers

‘What we’ve seen ... is not acceptable,’ says City Council transportation committee chairman
060122 Atlanta: General view of the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, with the control tower in the background, Wednesday, June 1, 2022, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

060122 Atlanta: General view of the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, with the control tower in the background, Wednesday, June 1, 2022, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz /

The leader of Hartsfield-Jackson International pledged on Wednesday to improve the airport’s terminal-to-terminal shuttle service, including doubling the number of buses in use, after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on passengers angered over waits of more than an hour.

Travelers at the Atlanta airport say they have encountered prolonged waits for the shuttle buses that connect the international and the domestic terminals outside of the airport.

“What we’ve seen ... is not acceptable,” Amir Farokhi, chairman of the Atlanta City Council transportation committee, said at a hearing Wednesday, two days after the AJC article published online. He asked Hartsfield-Jackson General Manager Balram Bheodari to explain the long lines “and what we can do to alleviate it.”

The hearing was an abrupt change in posture by officials and councilmembers. Only last week, days before the AJC article, council approved a resolution for a six-month extension of the shuttle contract that said contractor A-National Limousine was performing services “in a satisfactory manner.”

Bheodari told Farokhi and the committee his “entire senior team went out there” on Tuesday to review the shuttle operation, and said the contractor has been following directives from airport management.

Bheodari said he has now authorized a doubling of the number of shuttles used for the operation to eight.

“We’re getting those buses in rotation, along with bus drivers,” Bheodari said Wednesday. “My team is going to have people monitoring this more closely.”

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While there is a Plane Train beyond the security checkpoints to whisk ticketed passengers between terminals and concourses, outside the airport there is no train to carry people between the terminals, which are miles apart on opposite sides of the airfield.

Instead, the airport relies on terminal-to-terminal shuttle buses to transport arriving international passengers to the domestic terminal where the MARTA station sits or to return to their parked cars on that side of the airport. The shuttles also help international passengers connect to the rental car center.

‘We felt trapped’

Craig Kimbrough, a traveler who lives in Atlanta, said he recently helped an elderly Dutch couple who waited more than an hour in line for the shuttle following their long international flight.

“Hartsfield-Jackson does so many things very well but this situation has become an international embarrassment,” Kimbrough wrote in an e-mail to the AJC.

Milton resident Stephanie Batcos said she waited more than 90 minutes for the shuttle after a trans-Atlantic flight earlier this month.

“We felt trapped in the endless shuttle line,” she added. “Is there anyone in charge of airport operations who cares?”

Among the issues contributing to long waits are gridlock on airport roadways amid parking deck construction at the domestic terminal, along with heavy traffic at the international terminal.

Passengers load onto a shuttle bus on their way to the domestic terminal at the Maynard H. Jackson Jr. International Terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport Thursday afternoon in Atlanta, Ga., May 24, 2012. Atlanta's new international terminal has been open just over a week, and some returning travelers are steamed waiting an hour in some cases to catch overwhelmed shuttle buses back to their parked cars or MARTA.  Jason Getz /

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In an attempt to alleviate congestion caused by motorists picking up and dropping off passengers at the curb, the airport will now allow motorists to park for free in airport-run decks for up to 30 minutes, Bheodari said. That will take effect by Friday morning.

He said he will also look into traffic management and signs to better direct motorists on crowded airport roads, as well as curbside options for passengers with disabilities.

And Bheodari said he has authorized the start of planning to expand international terminal parking.

It’s yet to be seen if the changes will reduce shuttle waits.

Separately, the ATL Airport Community Improvement District has for years pursued possibilities for transportation options along the road between the international terminal and domestic terminal.

“I’m very supportive of a transportation solution,” Bheodari said. A form of transit called Personal Rapid Transit — essentially podcars on a segregated track — would be “very expensive,” he said.

Airport road congestion

The airport’s terminal-to-terminal shuttle operation has 18 shuttles in its fleet, but has only been using four of them, to the chagrin of waylaid passengers.

That’s partly because of supply chain delays for repairs to some of the shuttles, especially vehicles that run on compressed natural gas, according to Hartsfield-Jackson Chief Commercial Officer Jai Ferrell.

People arrive and depart Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Friday, before Presidents' Day weekend, Feb.18, 2020. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

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Credit: Steve Schaefer

There are also staffing issues, Bheodari said, with shuttle operators competing for drivers who are in high demand.

Another contributing factor to long passenger lines and waits at the international terminal are full parking decks at peak times. That is happening even though international flight volumes have not yet fully recovered to pre-pandemic levels, according to Bheodari.

The full parking decks are prompting some international travelers to park on the domestic terminal side of the airport, increasing terminal-to-terminal shuttle ridership.

That’s in addition to the regular volume of MARTA users and airport workers who rely on the shuttles.

The airport is studying international terminal parking deck use, Bheodari said.

Some new international flights have increased demand for the terminal-to-terminal shuttle. Frontier Airlines a year and a half ago began flying internationally from Atlanta, but international passengers check in at Frontier’s domestic terminal check-in counter. Passengers who park at the domestic terminal check-in for a Frontier flight, then arrive back at the international terminal to clear Customs, contribute to demand for the terminal-to-terminal shuttle.

Another factor: Some frequent travelers now park at the international terminal to avoid crowds at the domestic terminal, leaving fewer spaces for international travelers, according to Ferrell.

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