Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia is the world’s busiest airport, serving over 100 million passengers every year. Nearly every airline flies through the airport with nonstop flights worldwide, mostly with Delta, the hometown airline.
It can be overwhelming for visitors that aren’t used to it, but the airport is laid out well as a straight line with intersecting spokes. The gates are T, A, B, C, D, E, and F. The international terminal, F, has its own entrance, parking, and security but you can go between them.
The History of the Atlanta Airport
The airport started as a racetrack in 1909 but closed after its first season. It was abandoned for a decade until Coca-Cola founder Asa Candler Sr. donated the property for the airport, to be called Candler Field. The first flight took place here in 1926.
In 1942, the city purchased the airport, naming it Atlanta Municipal Airport. Passenger travel became more popular, especially as companies like Delta increased routes. By 1977 and 2003, the airport gained its current name, inspired by the two Atlanta mayors that added runways and made it into the hub it is today.
Want to learn more about the Atlanta Airport’s history? Check out this detailed post from Sunshine Skies.
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Atlanta Airport Tips
Getting Through Security at the Atlanta Airport
If there’s one thing that people complain about at the Atlanta airport, it’s the lines for security. It definitely gets confusing, especially for the uninitiated. Most people are funneled through the atrium unless you have Clear or TSA PreCheck. There’s a separate line for these that go to the left and/or right sides of the main security area.
But you might not know that there are two domestic security areas. If you’re noticing long lines at the main security area, check the South security area, which is usually faster. It’s sometimes used for PreCheck. There’s also a separate security area at the international terminal.
Trak-A-Line and the MyTSA app are helpful in tracking wait times. You can also sign up for Clear and TSA PreCheck, which expedite lines and don’t require you to take out electronics and liquids. You can sign up for Clear at the airport on the day of travel, but PreCheck requires an interview in advance.
If you don’t want to shell out for these services, be prepared with your ID and ticket out, with slip-on shoes and laptop and liquids taken out. A clear toiletry case is a must-have, along with a standard-size carry-on bag.
Going Between Terminals at the Atlanta Airport
Give yourself plenty of time to get between terminals if you have a connection. In most cases, a 30-minute layover is just impossible at the Atlanta airport. You’re covering too much ground, even from the gates to the center point.
Once you go through security, you can go from one end of the airport to the other using the Plane Train. It’s free to use and makes stops at each terminal, along with Baggage Claim and Ground Transportation. The trains feature multiple languages and visual aids and run every few minutes. There is a train in each direction.
If you’d rather take your time, you can also walk between the terminals using the path that runs along the train route. There are moving sidewalks and art exhibits to admire along the way. If you’re going between the domestic and international terminals, like when you have to get back to MARTA or the parking facility, there’s a free bus that connects the two.
Food and Drink at the Atlanta Airport
After many years of subpar options, the Atlanta airport has completely transformed its restaurants. The majority are now locally owned or offshoots of Atlanta businesses. You’ll still find the standard options like McDonald’s and Starbucks as well as one of the top-rated airport restaurants in the world.
The T gates are right after security so you can have a meal as soon as your shoes are back on. Papi’s Caribbean Cafe has fish tacos, Cuban sandwiches, and coffee. There’s also a location of Grindhouse Killer Burgers (along with at D), which has delicious burgers and breakfast sandwiches, which can be ordered using their kiosk.
People line up at Chick-fil-A, with locations at the A and C gates, but that’s not the only option at A. Tap has breakfast, a full bar, and the popular pub burger. Varasano’s Pizzeria brings their popular pies along with live music at the piano bar. There’s also a Shake Shack location.
At Terminal B, don’t miss Paschal’s, an offshoot of the Castleberry Hill soul food restaurant where Martin Luther King dined. Lottafrutta has smoothies and light dishes. At Terminal C, The Varsity is an Atlanta classic, with hot dogs and burgers, while The Original El Taco has breakfast tacos and margaritas. There’s also a Krispy Kreme!
At Terminal D, don’t miss rapper Ludacris’ restaurant Chicken + Beer, which has a delicious chicken sandwich and Georgia beers. Jay-Z’s 40/40 Club also has an outpost here. The Market by Food & Wine is the best spot for a quick coffee and sandwich, inspired by the flavors of Buford Highway.
Terminal E is home to the award-winning restaurant One Flew South. It has a loyal crowd of frequent flyers for its sushi and wine. There’s also a piano bar and fast-food staples like McDonald’s and Caribou Coffee. In Terminal F, dine on top-notch food like the Italian dishes at Ecco and seafood at Jekyll Island Seafood Company.
Looking for more incredible restaurants at the Atlanta Airport? Check out this Thrillist guide.
Shopping, Art, and Other Features of the Atlanta Airport
What sets the Atlanta airport apart from others is the amenities. There’s WiFi throughout every terminal. As of 2020, it’s also a completely non-smoking facility. There’s also a visitor’s center at the arrivals area of the domestic airport where you can pick up brochures and other essentials.
Live music is set up at different restaurants and atriums on any given day. There are also exhibits, like the one on the late John Lewis near the main security area, and African sculptures in the walkway that runs alongside the Plane Train.
There are also art installations like the Molly Rose Freeman mural at C, pictured above, the sculpture “Flight Paths” by artist Steven Waldeck, found between A and B terminals, and Kevin Cole’s sculpture, “Soul Ties that Matter,” at F.
If you’re looking for quiet reflection, you’ll find it in the nondenominational chapels, with locations upstairs above the main security atrium and at the E and F terminals. There’s also a barbershop in the atrium for a post-flight haircut.
There are also plenty of shops at every terminal. At concourse A, flyers can browse for books at Simply Books, pick out new luggage at the Tumi store, or get a much-needed adjustment at The Chiroport. Concourse B has the Beauty Lounge and Buckhead Books. Browse the duty-free shops at Concourse F and pick up Kiehl’s samples before your flight.
Club Lounges at the Atlanta Airport
Relax before your flight at one of the many airport lounges in Atlanta. You’ll likely need some sort of status for the majority of them, as not all offer day passes. The exception is at The Club at ATL at Concourse F. You can also take advantage of the private rooms and bathrooms at Minute Suites at Concourse B. Both cost around $45 but Priority Pass users get a discount.
The American Airlines Admirals Club is located at Concourse T, along with the United Club. Day passes are available for the Admirals Club and United Club, both for $59 per visit. Delta Sky Club has locations at every terminal including one at F with an open-air balcony. Status or membership are required for entry and no one-time passes are available.
Going from the Atlanta Airport to the City Center
The Atlanta Airport is about 10 miles from the heart of the city so it’s easy to reach by I-75 and I-285. For most people, the train is the easiest way to travel. The MARTA train station is on the far end of domestic baggage claim so follow the signs to reach it. If you don’t have a Breeze card, you’ll need to buy one before continuing. Fares are $2.50 and cards can be used on trains and buses.
There are two train lines, red and yellow, that run from the Airport station so make sure you’re on the right one. The ride should take around 20 minutes. At the Five Points station, you can transfer to the blue and green east-west lines. You can also catch Bus 191.
The offsite parking shuttles have moved to the lower level under the south baggage claim. There’s an escalator down and you go through the doors until you reach the street level. Here, you’ll find signs for each company. Be sure to note whether you are in indoor or outdoor parking as some companies have separate shuttles. Peachy Airport Parking and Fast Park & Relax are our favorites.
Rideshares like Uber and Lyft are also available. Drivers pick up at the North and South economy lots at the domestic terminal or right outside the international terminal. Both terminals offer onsite parking, which is good for picking someone up but expensive for longer stays.
If you’re looking to catch a taxi, there are taxi stands at both the domestic and international terminals. You’ll find it in domestic at the area known as the Yellow Bus Aisle, located between the north and south sides of the domestic terminal. At international, go to the lower level for pick up. They typically run at a fixed rate.
If you’re staying at one of the nearby hotels in the Airport Gateway, like Atlanta Airport Marriott Gateway and the AC Hotel Atlanta Airport Gateway, you can reach it using the SkyTrain, another free train system. It also connects to the Rental Car Center, which has every company and is open 24 hours a day. Other hotels have their own shuttles.
What to Do on an Atlanta Layover
If you have a long layover, it’s completely possible to see some of the city before continuing on your way, assuming you don’t mind bringing your bags. The city of Atlanta is a short train ride away, but there are also attractions in the neighborhoods that surround the airport. Catch a Lyft to these landmarks.
Learn about the history of Atlanta’s hometown airline at the Delta Flight Museum, set in a historic hangar. It contains early aircraft from the crop-dusting era, flight attendant uniforms, and artifacts from the company’s ties to the 1996 Olympics.
Hit the road at the Porsche Experience Center, the North American headquarters of the luxury German automaker. It has a driving test track, exhibits of notable cars, and even an onsite restaurant overlooking the airport runways.
Have you traveled through the Atlanta airport? Share your tips!