Atlanta airport expects 2.5M people over Memorial Day period

Hartsfield-Jackson advises travelers to get to terminal early to get through security

Long lines and big crowds are expected at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport over the Memorial Day period, which kicks off the busy summer travel season.

Officials expect record numbers of travelers at airport security checkpoints, on airlines, and on the roads.

A total of 1.3 million people in Georgia are expected to travel for the holiday weekend, up 4% year-over-year.

Even more people are expected to pass through Hartsfield-Jackson from May 22-29, when an estimated 2.5 million people will use the world’s busiest airport.

Airport officials recommend travelers get to the airport at least 2 to 2.5 hours before domestic flights, and 3 hours before international flights.

The busiest day of the upcoming holiday travel period at the airport is expected to be next Friday, May 24, when 351,194 passengers are expected to pass through the Atlanta airport.

While some passengers are just connecting in Atlanta, more than 100,000 people are expected to go through security checkpoints at Hartsfield-Jackson on that day. That means long lines to get through screening during peak periods.

Thursday, May 23, and Monday, May 27, will also be busy, with more than 330,000 passengers at the airport.

A record number of people were processed at Hartsfield-Jackson security checkpoints last year, and passenger screening numbers are up 11.6% so far this year, according to Robert Spinden, federal security director for the Transportation Security Administration in Atlanta.

This year, TSA has had three of its 10 busiest days ever in Atlanta.

The airport recently had a near-record number of people passing through checkpoints on Friday, May 10, when about 104,000 people passed through security checkpoints at Hartsfield-Jackson. That’s close to the all-time high set on the Monday after the Super Bowl in Atlanta in 2019.

Security wait times last Friday reached more than 40 minutes at the main checkpoint and lines stretched through the domestic terminal atrium.

A near-record number of people passed through security checkpoints at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Friday, May 10, 2024. Kelly Yamanouchi /

Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

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Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

Compared with 2019, TSA now has more staffing, more checkpoints and more lanes to screen passengers — and the airport has much larger queuing areas for serpentine lines of passengers.

Over the Memorial Day period, “We will have extra officers on duty to open additional screening lanes and security checkpoints,” Spinden said. “We’ll be opening as early as 3 a.m. on our busiest days.”

Wait times on normal days can average at least 20-30 minutes long, said Candace Brown, assistant general manager of public safety and security at Hartsfield-Jackson.

“However, during peak holiday travel times, long waits at the main domestic security checkpoint are very possible,” Brown said.

Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines, the dominant carrier at the Atlanta airport, says it expects a 5% increase in traffic over the Memorial Day period, when it expects to handle nearly 3 million customers. The airline has also increased its flight capacity by about 6% this year compared to last year.

Throughout the summer, U.S. airlines are forecast to carry a record 271 million passengers, up 6.3% year-over-year, according to industry group Airlines for America. The number of flights scheduled each day this summer is estimated at 26,000, up 5.6% from last year.

Airports aren’t the only places that will be crowded with travelers.

Nationally, AAA said it expects a record 38.4 million people will take road trips over the holiday weekend.

“We are now going to surpass pre-pandemic numbers,” said AAA spokesman Garrett Townsend.

The busiest period on the roads in Georgia is expected to be late Saturday afternoon, on I-16 East from Atlanta to Savannah, according to the auto club.

Gas prices in Georgia are higher than they were last year, at an average of $3.40 per gallon, up from $3.25 during last year’s Memorial Day weekend.

“Drivers should expect continued volatility at the pump as the summer driving season gets underway,” said AAA spokeswoman Montrae Waiters in a written statement. “The wild card remains the cost of oil, and unlike last year, there are now two wars — in the Middle East and Ukraine — that could roil the oil market.”

AAA said the average round-trip domestic airfare for the holiday weekend is $778, up 2% from last year, according to its booking data. But domestic hotels are 5% cheaper than last year’s Memorial Day weekend, and domestic car rentals are 17% cheaper.

New flights at Hartsfield-Jackson

Delta is launching flights from Atlanta to Zurich on May 31, and will start new routes to Santa Barbara and Fresno in California on June 7.

On May 2, startup carrier Avelo Airlines launched service to Atlanta with four flights a week from New Haven, Connecticut.

Frontier Airlines announced it will start flights from Atlanta to Grand Rapids, Michigan and Islip, New York, starting May 16; and to Norfolk, Virginia; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Syracuse, New York, starting May 17. It’s operating three flights a week on each route.

Scandinavian Airlines is launching daily service in Atlanta on June 17 with flights to Copenhagen.

Alaska Airlines is launching daily flights from Atlanta to San Diego on May 16.

And Sun Country Airlines, a low-cost carrier based in Minneapolis, is operating a handful of scheduled flights a month from Atlanta, on an intermittent basis. The reason: Sun Country has a contract to fly Major League Soccer teams on charter flights, and after flying a team of soccer players to Atlanta and dropping them off, it will operate a scheduled flight from Hartsfield-Jackson back to its Minneapolis hub — and vice versa, with a scheduled flights from the Minneapolis hub to Hartsfield-Jackson before picking up a team from Atlanta.