Headed to Atlanta airport? Tips for the busy summer travel season

Things change rapidly at the world’s busiest airport. Here is a guide to help make your travels smoother at Hartsfield-Jackson
Passengers navigate through Concourse B at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Monday, March 11, 2024.
Miguel Martinez /miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Passengers navigate through Concourse B at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Monday, March 11, 2024. Miguel Martinez /miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial kickoff of the busy summer travel season, and crowds have already been packing into the world’s busiest airport as schools let out and vacations begin.

The busiest day of the Memorial Day holiday travel period at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is expected to be Friday, May 24, when more than 350,000 passengers are expected to pass through the Atlanta airport.

But Thursday, May 23, and Monday, May 27, will also be busy, with more than 330,000 passengers at the airport on each of those days.

Travelers should be prepared for the possibility of long lines to check bags and get through screening.

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

Officials have been working to address long wait times at security checkpoints with the Transportation Security Administration, according to Hartsfield-Jackson General Manager Balram Bheodari.

He said the airport received a commitment from TSA to increase staff with 80 more full-time equivalent employees in Atlanta, Bheodari said at a recent city council committee meeting. Those additions are in progress, he said.

“We are seeing some peaks here where we’re hitting 50 minutes” for security wait times because of staffing issues, Bheodari said.

“TSA at headquarters is very cognizant of this,” he added.

Wait times at Hartsfield-Jackson’s main security checkpoint in the domestic terminal have already reached more than 50 minutes this week, when lines early Monday morning winding through the queues and out into the atrium.

Security lines stretched through Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport's domestic terminal atrium on Monday, May 20, 2024.

Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

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Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

If you’re preparing to take off for a trip and plan to navigate the crowds at the airport, here are some other things you should know:

Airport MARTA station reopens

After a six-week closure of the Airport MARTA station for floor renovations, the station has now reopened and rail service directly to the domestic terminal has resumed.

During the closure, brick pavers were replaced with terrazzo floors on the lower level — a smoother surface for rolling suitcases — while larger tile pavers were installed on the upper level.

That said, the Airport MARTA station renovation is still a work in progress and is years from being complete. Many areas of the station are still under construction, including elevators, an escalator, a large wall that will become a mural and a new ride store location.

A traveler stands at the newly renovated MARTA Airport Station, which opened to the public on Monday, May 20, 2024. The renovation, which took about six weeks, included new flooring, replacing ceilings and lighting, and installing infrastructure for a new elevator.
(Miguel Martinez / AJC)

Credit: Miguel Martinez/AJC

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Credit: Miguel Martinez/AJC

MARTA can be a convenient way to get to the airport by skipping highway traffic and parking hassles.

There’s long-term parking at some MARTA stations for a daily fee of $5 or $8 a day, including the College Park, Doraville, Lindbergh Center, Dunwoody, Sandy Springs and North Springs stations, according to MARTA’s website.

Prepare for traffic

If you’re driving, congestion on highways, around the terminal curbside and parking decks could delay your trip.

On the afternoon of Friday, May 17, for example, Hartsfield-Jackson warned of heavy traffic congestion that stretched onto Camp Creek Parkway and the interstate, and advised motorists to allow extra time to get to the airport.

If you’re heading to pick up visitors, instead of driving in loops around the airport, you can wait for your friends or family at the airport’s cellphone lot at 1920 Autoport Drive in College Park.

To get there, pay close attention to signs on the airport roads, which direct those coming from I-85 South to drive past the terminal, following signs to the ATL West Parking/Rental Car Center while staying in the right lane to drive around a loop to the cellphone lot.

Here's a route to get to the cell phone lot at Hartsfield-Jackson. Source: Google maps, AJC.

Credit: Source: Google maps, AJC

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Credit: Source: Google maps, AJC

Parking? Have a plan

During busy periods, airport and off-airport parking decks and lots tend to fill up, turning away motorists who are then forced to circle around the airport searching for alternatives while rushing to catch a flight.

On Tuesday afternoon, for example, the airport’s ATL West deck, International park-ride, North Daily, South Daily and North Economy lots were all full, according to Hartsfield-Jackson’s website.

Some people have missed their trips entirely because they couldn’t find parking.

The south lot hourly parking deck at Hartsfield Jackson international airport was full Wednesday, June 22, 2022. Steve Schaefer / steve.schaefer@ajc.com)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

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Credit: Steve Schaefer

The problem worsened after Hartsfield-Jackson last October closed the popular South economy lot to make way for a yearslong construction project to build a new parking deck.

It’s a good idea to be aware of options for parking in advance — and to make a reservation. (Or, take MARTA.)

At Hartsfield-Jackson, the airport offers parking reservations for the airport-run ATL West deck and international terminal parking decks.

Many off-airport lots take parking reservations, including The Parking Spot, WallyPark, and PreFlight off Camp Creek Parkway, as well as Peachy Airport Parking north of the airport and FastPark & Relax near the international terminal.

Know the options for TSA screening

There often isn’t a way to avoid lines at the security checkpoints, but there are multiple screening options that can reduce some of the stress.

The airport currently has four screening checkpoints for passengers at the domestic terminal.

They are:

  • Main checkpoint for standard screening
  • North checkpoint for standard screening
  • Lower North checkpoint, for standard screening and Clear members with standard screening
  • South checkpoint, for PreCheck members, Clear members with PreCheck member screening. Also available: Delta Digital ID and United PreCheck Touchless ID.

The airport sometimes shifts traffic between checkpoints, and during certain periods opens up a line for PreCheck on the right side of the Main checkpoint.

October 9, 2023 Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: John Spink

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Credit: John Spink

A PreCheck membership costs $78 or $85 for five years, depending on where you sign up. It allows you to get into a PreCheck line, which may be shorter than the line for standard screening and offers the chance to avoid the hassles of taking off your shoes and removing your laptop from your bag.

A Clear membership is much costlier, with a standard price of $189 for one year to skip the regular line and get into a Clear line. It can be used with PreCheck or on its own.

Delta Digital ID is an expedited security line for Delta customers who qualify and opt in, to be processed at the entrance to the screening area using facial recognition instead of a driver’s license or ID check.

Delta Digital ID is now available at the domestic and international terminals at Hartsfield-Jackson, as is PreCheck — though both have limited hours.

United Airlines on May 15 launched its own PreCheck Touchless ID option at Hartsfield-Jackson at the South checkpoint. It allows those who opt in through the United app to also be processed through facial scanning.

An easier path to baggage claim

After more than two years of construction, new elevators for arriving passengers who take the Plane Train to baggage claim are now operational at Hartsfield-Jackson.

The elevators at baggage claim started operations May 10. That means passengers who need an elevator no longer need to get off at Concourse T and then make the trek to baggage claim from there.

The elevator bank sits in front of the escalators that take passengers up from the Plane Train tunnel.

Because the elevators block the view of people waiting for their friends or family to arrive, Hartsfield-Jackson in mid-April installed a huge video screen that shows passengers on the screen as they come up the escalators.

A video screen shows arriving passengers at the top of the escalators at at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

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Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi