“When you die, whether you go to heaven or hell, you have to change planes in Atlanta” is an expression quoted in a 1980 Time magazine article. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta serves more passengers annually than any other airport in the United States and was ranked No. 1 in the world for 22 years until travel was upended by the coronavirus in 2020 (when annual passengers fell by 61% to 42.9 million while Guangzhou’s Baiyun International Airport in China declined “only” 41% to 43.8 million to overtake it). ATL is the primary hub for hometown Delta Air Lines, which accounts for about 80% of passengers using the airport. Downtown Atlanta is 11 miles north of the airport, or about 20 minutes driving time. Access to the domestic terminal on the west side of the airport is off Interstate 75 and to the international terminal on the east side of the airport is off Interstate 85.
Atlanta airport has a Domestic Terminal and an International Terminal that are about a mile apart from each other. Between the two terminals – and connected by the airport’s Plane Train automated underground people mover system – are five concourses containing the A-E gates. Additionally, the T gates are part of the Domestic Terminal and the F gates are part of the International Terminal.
The Domestic Terminal is made up of Terminal South, taken up entirely by Delta (and often called the Delta Terminal) and Terminal North, which houses all other domestic airlines. International flights arrive and depart at the International Terminal where all international airlines are located as well as Delta’s international facilities.
Ground transportation options include shared-ride van services, taxis, car services, shuttles, app-based ride services and public transportation. Passengers will find all but the last two curbside outside the west exits from baggage claim. Passengers using app-based ride services are picked up at the economy parking lots for both terminals North and South (take an escalator down from baggage claim and follow the orange signs). Two train lines of MARTA, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, operate on a schedule departing from the airport’s domestic terminal baggage claim area every 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the time of day. The Georgia International Convention Center can be reached by way of the free SkyTrain automated people mover.
Delta Air Lines flights arrive and depart at gates on every concourse at Atlanta’s airport. Connecting passengers can use a pedestrian mall with moving walkways or the Plane Train to travel between gates without exiting the TSA secure area. Passengers arriving on international flights who did not pre-clear U.S. Customs at their departure airport, must exit the TSA secure area after reclaiming bags and be re-screened but then can use the Plane Train to go directly to a connecting gate. Arriving international passengers who need to check-in at the airline’s ticket counter should use the Terminal Connector Shuttle outside the secure area on the arrivals level of the International Terminal to go directly to the Domestic Terminal, then go through the TSA checkpoint there. Delta’s check-in counters and baggage claim are in Terminal South.
Literally rising from the ashes of being almost entirely burned to the ground during the American Civil War, Atlanta today is now the epitome of the “New South” as a commercial center, modern architecture, as well as diverse dining and cultural offerings.
The Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau has information here.
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