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Traveling during the holidays? Navigate Atlanta's airport like a pro with our guide


It’s time for the holiday rush at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Check out the latest developments for travelers, so you can navigate the Atlanta airport like a pro.

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WHAT’S NEW THIS YEAR

Airport expansion and modernization

Road construction. The airport has launched a $6 billion plan to modernize the terminal and expand the airport. Watch for road closures outside the domestic terminal. The airport is installing a giant canopy over the Terminal North curbside area and doing preparatory work in the Terminal South curbside area, causing some lane closures. Allow extra time to navigate through any congestion, slow down on your approach to the terminal and watch for lane closures.

Uber, Lyft pickup-zones. Due to the road closures for canopy construction, the airport relocated Uber and Lyft pickups to designated zones in the domestic terminal North and South economy lots. Warning: The pickup zones are a lengthy walk from the terminal to an area in the economy parking lots. During busy periods, the pickup zones can get congested with dozens of drivers and cars trying to connect. Uber recommends arriving passengers without checked bags take the Plane Train people-mover to the international terminal to be picked up curbside.

Shuttle drop-offs. Hartsfield-Jackson has relocated domestic Terminal North parking shuttle and hotel shuttle drop-offs to Terminal South, due to the canopy construction.

Gate area renovations. The airport is modernizing domestic gate areas throughout the airport, adding more windows to bring more light into the concourses and doing other renovations. This creates construction zones in parts of the airport, with open ceilings and some walled-off sections that shrink the space at some gates.

The work on the “ATLNext” master plan expansion and modernization projects began last year and will continue for years to come.

Airport security

More TSA smart lanes. The Transportation Security Administration now has 22 automated screening lanes spread across the domestic security checkpoints. That means most of the security lanes at the domestic terminal are now smart lanes, which require a different process for travelers.

The new “smart” automated screening lanes are aimed at speeding the process of security screening, but they can take some getting used to. If you are at an automated screening lane with larger bins and metal conveyors, here’s what you need to know:

1) If you’re next in line and any of the five bin-loading stations opens up, proceed to it. Don’t just wait behind the person in front of you if there is an empty station available.

2) Everything goes in a bin, including a roll-aboard suitcase for example. The bins are 25 percent larger, but be aware that oversized carry-on luggage won’t fit in the bin.

3) Push the bin onto the conveyor belt, which will automatically move it into the X-ray machine. Then walk through the checkpoint — you don’t have to wait for the person in front of you to finish.

4) If a bin’s contents need to be manually screened, it is automatically bumped over to an alternate conveyor belt for an officer’s inspection. If your bin clears the X-ray machine, retrieve your belongings on the other side as usual. Then, put your bin on the stack at the end of the lane, where it will be automatically returned to the front of the line via a lower-level conveyor belt.

Expanded main checkpoint. Hartsfield-Jackson earlier this year significantly expanded the security queuing area, reducing the chance of lines snaking through the atrium.

Electronic device screening. TSA is phasing in stricter rules for screening of electronic devices in carry-on bags, and has already started requiring passengers in some security lanes at Hartsfield-Jackson to remove iPads, tablets and other electronic devices larger than a cell phone from carry-on bags and place them in a bin. The devices cannot be stacked on top of each other, and can be placed in multiple bins if necessary. TSA advises passengers to listen to directions from officers at the checkpoint and follow the requirements. The new requirement does not apply to PreCheck members in TSA PreCheck lanes.

Clear. Biometric ID technology firm Clear has launched at Hartsfield-Jackson, selling $179 annual memberships for access to special airport security lines. Delta offers discounted Clear memberships to SkyMiles frequent fliers.

International travel. You may be asked additional questions by airline personnel as part of a “security interview” process at overseas airports when flying to the United States or returning to the United States.

Food screening. Although it’s not required, TSA recommends passengers remove food items from their bags and put them into the bin to reduce the need for manual bag checks.

Airport amenities

Starbucks. There is a new Starbucks open in the domestic terminal atrium, opened November 2017. It replaces the Starbucks that was around the corner from the atrium, and is in the spot previously occupied by La Madeleine. Next to the new Starbucks, an Auntie Anne’s Pretzels is under construction to open next year.

Animal relief areas. Hartsfield-Jackson now has animal relief areas for pets and service animals on each concourse, as well as a dog park outside the domestic terminal and pet relief area outside the international terminal.

No SuperShuttle. SuperShuttle pulled out of Atlanta earlier this year, and no longer serves Hartsfield-Jackson with shared-ride shuttles.

Bank closed. Wells Fargo has closed its branch in the domestic terminal.

Airlines

Delta in-flight text messaging. Delta now offers free in-flight text messaging via iMessage, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

Automatic Delta flight check-in. Those who use the Fly Delta app can now be automatically checked in for Delta flights. You’ll get an alert to acknowledge the federal mandate restricted items, then you’ll have your boarding pass.

Delta gun policy. Delta now requires passengers traveling with guns checked as baggage to pick up their firearms at the baggage service office upon arrival.

NAVIGATING THE AIRPORT

Security tips

- If you have questions or complaints for TSA on anything from prohibited items to PreCheck, you can tweet it to @askTSA for a response.

Travelers with disabilities, medical conditions or other special circumstances that call for assistance during security screening can call the TSA cares helpline to ask questions or request a passenger support specialist for “on-the-spot assistance.”

- Putting your empty bins back onto the stack of bins after you finish getting through screening will help expedite the process for everyone.

- Check your kids’ backpacks and bags for any unusual items they may have packed that are prohibited in carry-on bags, such as toy guns or juice boxes.

- Do not wrap gifts, because if your bag sets off an alarm, TSA officers will need to unwrap it. Other options: Gift bags or gift wrapping at your destination.

- Record crowds led to some long waits last year at TSA checkpoints, and TSA, airline and the airport added staff and made changes in an effort to shorten lines. Still, wait times can exceed 30 minutes during peak periods. Plan accordingly and arrive at the airport earlier than usual to get to your gate on time. It’s a good idea to get to the airport at least two hours before your flight depart. Allow extra time beyond two hours to:

  • Navigate road construction
  • Find parking or take a shuttle to the terminal
  • Check oversized bags
  • Get special assistance
  • Travel with pets (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)

- The most dependable way to get expedited screening is to apply for PreCheck — which gives you the chance to keep your shoes, belts and jackets on and leave liquids in your suitcase. It costs $85 for five years. You can sign up online and schedule an appointment at a PreCheck registration center. There is a registration center in Hartsfield-Jackson’s domestic terminal and one on Concourse A.

- There are three checkpoints in the domestic terminal — Main, South and North. The international terminal has its own security checkpoint.

DIRECTIONS FROM DOWNTOWN ATLANTA

To the domestic terminal: Take I-75/85 connector south to I-85, follow signs to [airport symbol] Domestic

On MARTA: Take the Red or Gold line to and from the terminal. Trips are $2.50 each way. Trains operate either every 15 minutes or every 20 minutes, depending on the day, time and route. 

To the international terminal: Take I-75/85 connector south and continue on I-75. Take Exit 239. Turn right onto C.W. Grant Parkway. Continue straight and follow signs to“Departures,” “Arrivals”or “Parking.” 

Parking: Economy lots cost $3 per hour or $12 per day. The park-ride lots for domestic and international terminals cost $3 per hour or $9 or $12 per day.

TIME TO KILL?

- The cellphone lot is a great place for “meeter-greeters” to wait for their friends or family who haven’t yet arrived at the curbside. It’s free to wait there in your car, and the entrance is on the right side of the road leading to Terminal South.

- If you’re in the domestic terminal and need to charge your phone, you can use outlets at the counter seating area at Starbucks or grab a bite or drink at the bar at the Atlanta Chop House and use the outlets running underneath the bar.

- If you’re in the domestic terminal and have a couple of extra hours to have a cocktail or a meal, you can take the free SkyTrain people-mover to the Georgia International Convention Center stop, where there is a new Renaissance Hotel with a restaurant/bar called Hickory & Hazel, as well as a Marriott with a Champions upscale sports bar.

- If you’re past security and you need a private place to sleep or work, you can pay for a “sleep unit” at Minute Suites on Concourse B. Each of the five units has a daybed, pillows, blankets, a TV, desk and chair.

-If you’re on Concourse A, there’s now a kiosk between Gates A11 and A15 that offers a two-minute training on hands-only CPR.

- Concourses A and C have XpresSpa locations where you can get a massage, manicure or pedicure.

- Wi-Fi is free at Hartsfield-Jackson.

- If you carry a reusable water bottle, the airport has water bottle refilling stations.

INTERNATIONAL TERMINAL FAQ

Q: Where can international travelers park at the international terminal?

A: The international terminal has a short-term hourly parking garage, as well as a long-term park-ride garage with a 3-minute shuttle bus ride to the terminal, and a Gold Reserve parking lot that requires registration. There are no daily parking or walkable economy parking lots like at the domestic terminal.

Q: Where do international travelers claim their checked bags when arriving in Atlanta?

A: At the international terminal baggage claim area.

Q: What if I go to the wrong terminal?

A: You may still be able to check in for your flight, depending on the airline. But if you can’t check in for your flight or check your bag, don’t worry — you can take a shuttle bus to get to the correct terminal. At the main terminal, the shuttle will be at the ground transportation center on the west end of the terminal. The shuttle ride from one terminal to the other will take 12 minutes. International travelers may want to allow some extra time the first time they use the terminal, in case of any wait or confusion.

Q: How can I get from the airport MARTA station to the international terminal?

A: A free shuttle bus runs between the airport MARTA station and the international terminal 24 hours a day, available to passengers only.

Q: How can visitors to Atlanta get to the rental car center?

A: A separate free shuttle bus will take travelers from the international terminal to the rental car center.

Q: Where do I pick up arriving international passengers?

A: Take I-75, exit 239 to the international terminal, where signs will point you toward the lower-level roadway for arriving passengers.

Q: Does the people-mover train go to Concourse F?

A: Yes, the train and the pedestrian walkway connect Concourse F with all other concourses. If you’re an Atlanta-bound international passenger going through Customs, you’ll exit into the international terminal arrivals area. You won’t be able to get through security to access the people-mover train to the main terminal, but you can take a shuttle to the main terminal. Also, Atlanta-bound passengers who arrive on Concourse E must walk to the international terminal to collect their baggage and exit. The walk varies from about a quarter mile to six-tenths of a mile long, though there are some moving walkways.

Q: Did the international terminal replace international Concourse E?

A: No, the international terminal and 12-gate Concourse F are in addition to the 28-gate Concourse E. They form what the airport calls a “40-gate international air travel complex.”

TICKETING, ETC.

Here's where you'll find your airline

Terminal North

Southwest

American

Frontier

Spirit Air

JetBlue

United

Alaska Airlines

Boutique Airlines

Contour Airlines

Terminal South

Delta Air Lines 

International Terminal

Delta Air Lines

Southwest

Air Canada

Air France

British Airways

KLM

Korean Air

Lufthansa

Qatar Airways

Turkish Airlines

Virgin Atlantic

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MYAJC.COM: REAL JOURNALISM. REAL LOCAL IMPACT.

AJC Business reporter Kelly Yamanouchi keeps you updated on the latest news about Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Delta Air Lines and the airline industry in metro Atlanta and beyond. You'll find more on myAJC.com, including these stories:

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