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Guide to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)

Named after two previous mayors of Atlanta, William Hartsfield and Maynard Jackson, the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) is recognised as the busiest airport in the world in terms of passenger numbers. It is one of two international airports serving the Atlanta, Georgia area (the other being Savannah/Hilton Head) and is located a mere 7 miles (11 km) south of downtown Atlanta. Covering 4,700 acres, the airport has five runways with two terminals and handles over 1,000 flights daily to over 220 domestic and international destinations.

Hartsfield-Jackson is the major hub for Delta Air Lines and is home to the company's corporate headquarters as well as its Technical Operations Center, Delta's main base for aircraft repairs, maintenance and overhauls. The airport is also a base of operations for Southwest Airlines and Frontier Airlines.

ATL Started as an Abandoned Racetrack

The origins of Atlanta Airport are quite unusual. It began in 1925 when Mayor Walter Sims signed a rent-free, five-year lease for the abandoned 287-acre Atlanta Speedway auto racetrack with the intention of developing the site into an airfield. As part of the lease agreement the new airfield was named Candler Field and the first flight arrived at Candler in 1926.

Candler Field quickly developed and the future was virtually assured when Pitcairn Aviation began regular services at the airfield and was then followed in 1930 by Delta Air Service. These two aviation companies later expanded and changed names to Eastern Air Lines and Delta Air Lines, two of the biggest American airline companies.

Further Promising Developments

Almost from the beginning, Atlanta was a successful airport and, in just five years, ranked third behind the well-established airports in New York and Chicago with a daily schedule of sixteen arrivals and departures. By 1939, the numbers had increased significantly with Delta and Eastern alone operating fourteen daily flight departures.

With the onset of World War II, Candler Field was declared a military airfield and during the war years the airport almost doubled in size and broke records with more than 1,700 take-offs and landings in just one day.

Renamed Atlanta Municipal Airport in 1942, the airport continued to expand its passenger and cargo trade and, by 1948, over a million passengers had passed through the rapidly growing airport. With passenger numbers increasing steadily a new, modern terminal became a necessity. Construction began in 1957 and the $21 million terminal opened its doors in 1961 with six concourses radiating out from a central core. The biggest terminal in the United States at the time, the terminal could cater for more than six million passengers a year and this number was quickly passed with close to ten million travelers passing through Atlanta Airport in the first year alone.

In 1971, another name change took place as the Municipal Airport became the William B. Hartsfield Atlanta Airport with the “International” tag being added later the same year in recognition of the airport's growing international services.

In 2003, after a vote by the City Council, it was decided to honour the recently deceased former mayor Maynard Jackson by adding his name and the airport became officially known as Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport with the IATA (International Air Transport Association) designation code ATL.

Atlanta Airport Layout

Despite its size and impressive passenger numbers, Hartsfield-Jackson has a simple layout and is easy to navigate. There are just two terminals (domestic and international) with seven concourses containing 195 gates.

The domestic terminal is simply called the “Domestic Terminal” while the international terminal is officially designated the Maynard H. Jackson International Terminal.

Domestic Terminal

Located on the west side of the airport, the Domestic Terminal has three sections: Main Terminal, North Terminal and South Terminal. The sections are linked by the Atrium which is a three-storey complex offering a wide range of amenities. Concourses A to D are located here as well as Concourse T.

International Terminal

Handling all international arrivals and departures, the International Terminal is on the eastern side of the airport and contains Concourses E and F

Between Terminals

There are three methods of moving between the terminal at Atlanta Airport: walking, the Transportation Mall or the Plane Train.


The domestic and international terminals are linked by the Atrium which allows travelers to walk between the two although distances may be quite long depending on the final destination.

Transportation Mall

This is a pedestrian tunnel which houses a number of moving walkways for convenience and ease of movement.

Plane Train

An automated people mover (APM), the Plane Train runs through two tunnels and stops at eight stations located on Concourses A to F (International) and on Concourse T.

It should be noted that the Plane Train operates within the airport's secure area and arriving passengers ending their travel at the International Terminal are prohibited from using this service to access the rail station or car rental depot.

Airlines and Allotted Terminals

Despite the fact that the terminals at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport are labelled Domestic and International it is notable that many international carriers operate out of the domestic terminal and Concourse T.

The following are just some of the bigger and better-known airlines and their allotted terminals:

Domestic Terminal (North)

Air Canada, Air China, Aer Lingus, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Brussels Airlines, Finnair (departures), Gulf Air, Iberia, JetBlue, Japan Airlines, LOT (departures), Malaysia Airlines, Qatar Airways, Qantas, SAS, Spirit Airlines, SWISS, TAP, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, Virgin Atlantic

Domestic Terminal (South)

Alitalia, Air France, British Airways, China Airlines (departures), Delta Airlines, El Al, KLM, Vietnam Airlines, WestJet

International Terminal

Air Canada, Air France, Alitalia, Aer Lingus, British Airways, Delta Airlines, Finnair, Iberia, Lufthansa, KLM, Qatar Airlines, United Airlines, Thai Airlines, Virgin Australia
To further confuse matters, it should also be noted that many airlines operate out of both the domestic and international terminals.

Travelers Checks

Foreign nationals arriving in the United States can expect to be thoroughly screened, checked and even questioned at the airport by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents. As the United Kingdom and all European Member states qualify for the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) a visa is not required when visiting the United States although it is necessary to have applied for and received ESTA approval before travel.

An ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) is similar to earlier paper visas but is an electronic version linked to a passport which can be screened upon entry to the U.S.A. by the relevant authorities.

Security at Atlanta Airport is managed by the Transport Security Administration (TSA) and TSA officials use a number of measures to prevent undesirable or unwanted visitors from entering the United States. These include:

  • Checking the validity of a visitor's passport and ESTA
  • Seeking proof of identity
  • Requesting details of any planned itinerary
  • Physically examining checked and hand baggage
  • Querying the purpose of the visit and the length of stay

VWP citizens may be stopped at random at any point or time while in the secure area and it is advisable to have all travel documentation and ID close at hand should the need arise in order to prevent possible issues and unwanted delays.

Expedited Entry to the United States

Frequent VWP visitors to the U.S.A. can speed up the entry process by enrolling in the Global Entry Program. Members of this voluntary program supply fingerprint and biometric data which can be used to validate the registered member's status at automated booths situated in the arrivals area of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Membership of the Global Entry Program is limited to a set list of countries which includes the EU Member States of the Netherlands and Germany as well as the United Kingdom.

Transfers and Ground Transportation

Atlanta Airport is extremely well served in terms of local transport options for travelers commuting to or from the airport.

Shuttle Bus

Arriving passengers can choose from an array of shuttle bus services running to downtown Atlanta, many nearby cities and towns and even out of state destinations.


The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority Red and Gold rail lines run directly from Atlanta Airport to numerous destinations in the Atlanta area including Buckhead, Dunwoody and Sandy Springs.

Greyhound Bus

Passengers traveling further afield can take one of the Greyhound buses to a vast number of U.S. cities.


Although the AMTRAK station is in Atlanta, travelers can make a connection by using one of the door-to-door services provided at the airport.


With downtown Atlanta just 7 miles away, a taxi ride will take a mere 15 minutes and taxis are usually available throughout the day although less plentiful during the night.

As is the norm throughout the world there are numerous car rental offices to be found at the airport and there is also the option of booking private transport or sharing a ride from the airport to the heart of the nearby city.