Checkpoint construction work causing long waits at Hartsfield-Jackson

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Airport officials to frustrated travelers: “Pack your patience.”

Long security lines are stretching through the terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport with waits of longer than 40 minutes during peak times, as construction work at the main checkpoint has closed some screening lanes.

The $66 million project to replace X-ray machines with more advanced scanners to screen carry-on bags started this month, with three of the lanes closed.

During busy periods, “you may see long lines,” Hartsfield-Jackson general manager Balram Bheodari acknowledged. “We’ve got capacity constraints.”

The work on the 19 screening lanes at the main checkpoint will be done in phases and is expected to take about 18 months, with completion expected in early 2024, Bheodari said.

It’s already causing frustrations for travelers, with lines at times stretching through the atrium and into baggage claim. While long wait times often plague the main checkpoint during busy periods, frequent fliers in the TSA PreCheck line and Clear lines for expedited screening have also had lengthy wait times recently.

Airport officials are now advising travelers allow extra time to make it to their flights — recommending being at the airport 2.5-3 hours before departure to allow extra time for parking and security.

Once installed at the main checkpoint, the new computed tomography (CT) scanners will generate higher quality images for security screeners and could reduce congestion in security queues.

While X-ray machines generate 2-D images of bags, CT technology can create 3-D images that can be rotated and viewed at different angles. It also can detect explosives, including liquid explosives. The technology should eventually allow travelers to keep their permitted liquids and laptops inside their bags during screening. The new equipment at the main security checkpoint will be similar to machines in the lanes at the TSA PreCheck south checkpoint with automated bin return.

But for now, the installation work is reducing throughput and causing long waits. And security lines are not the only hassle travelers may encounter at the airport.

A shortage of parking spaces next to the domestic terminal amid construction work is also causing the airport’s parking decks and lots to fill up during peak travel periods.

Motorists rushing to catch flights are sometimes forced to detour to look for parking in other decks or lots near the airport, making them later than originally planned.

The parking disruptions are due to a project Hartsfield-Jackson started earlier this year to structurally reinforce and then eventually replace its aging parking decks, which is expected to take 10 years to complete.

“Pack your patience,” said Hartsfield-Jackson chief commercial officer Jai Ferrell. “You need to plan and plan ahead,” including considering alternate parking options like the ATL West parking deck connected to the domestic terminal via SkyTrain and park-ride lots.

Once travelers get into the terminal, there are other potential hassles. Not all airport eateries have reopened with regular hours, causing long lines and waits for some passengers trying to buy food at the airport.

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer