Exploring Atlanta’s Airport Map: Everything You Didn’t Know About the World’s Busiest Airport
One of the busiest airports in the world, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, is also one of my favorites, read on to find out why.
One of the busiest airports in the world, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, is also one of my favorites, read on to find out why.
Compared to Chicago’s O’hare airport, or Denver’s, or even New York Laguardia Airport, Atlanta’s beats them by a landslide. What I love about Atlanta’s airport is how easy it is to get around. It begins before you even enter the airport. I don't know if I’m the only person that seriously stresses about going to the airport, something about the potential to be thrown in jail if I stand in the wrong place, or the right place for too long or look "suspicious" somehow… And now i’m worried about what it means to look suspicious. How do I keep from looking suspicious?
I digress, the stress starts before I even get into the airport, but the Atlanta airport keeps everything easy. There's only two options. Terminal South and Terminal North. Only two airlines go out of Terminal South, so if you’re not on Delta or going to Alaska, you’re going to the North Terminal.
Keep under the blue signs and you’re home free.
I always recommend wrangling a friend into dropping you off if at all possible, because who wants to pay to park for several days at airport prices? But if it’s absolutely necessary that you park your car in Atlanta, I would recommend one of the off-site parking lots. They’re a lot cheaper than airport parking and you can take a shuttle to the airport. The shuttles are well-marked and drop you off right at the terminal.
If you absolutely have to park at the airport, here are a few things to keep in mind. Don’t plan to leave for more than a month and have your car be there when you get back. Why anyone would pay to park their car at the airport for a month, I don’t know, but if that was your plan you need to rethink it. And also maybe your ideas for affordable parking.
Hourly parking varies little between the domestic and international terminals. Ranging between $2 per hour and $9 per day. More specific parking rate info is available at the airport’s website. Basically, the shorter the parking time and the further away, the cheaper it is. If you want premium covered parking for more than an hour or two, be prepared to cough up an arm and a leg.
The daily rates also vary based on how close you want to be; the most expensive daily rates will be $16 per day in the domestic lot. The international lot doesn’t actually offer daily rates. They do offer a free shuttle to an international lot Park-and-Ride aside from regular hourly parking, which will run you $3 an hour.
You also have the option to reserve parking, which would be nice if money weren’t an object. You can go into the parking lot knowing you have a spot and not have to drive around for hours trying to find something. Reserved parking = less stress, and I’m all for that.
Ticketing and Check-In
Once inside, each airline is clearly marked to make checking in easy, if you haven't checked in online. That said, always, always check in online. There's no reason not to if you have access to a printer so you can print your boarding pass. It’s one less thing to do at the airport, one less line to get into, and one less thing to stress about.
Have I mentioned how stressed I get about flying?
The check-in counters are clearly marked for each airline, this is worth the special mention I made. At the main entrance to security, toward the atrium, there's a line of four or five plasma screen televisions that list every flight leaving from every airline for the next several hours and tells you which gates they're departing from. All in one place. I thought this logical one-stop-shop for info was standard operating procedure for airports across the country. So imagine my dismay and confusion when I arrived at the equally-busy Chicago O’Hare international airport and there were only American Airline boards for as far as the eye could see. Apparently, American Airlines is the big spender at Chicago airport, there's practically entire terminals dedicated to them.
Well, I like to fly on the cheap, and I couldn’t find Frontier’s arrival/departure board to save my life. And I was flying alone for the first time. Chicago was having its first winter storm of the year and I couldn’t even verify that Frontier Airlines ws a thing at this airport.
Nope. No reason at all to stress.
I had already checked in online and was trying to find out if my flight was delayed due to the aforementioned winter storm there in Chicago. When I couldn’t find the departure board, I decided to just get through security and worry about it on the other side.
This brings me to the first major difference between Chicago's and Atlanta’s airports.
The terminal at Atlanta’s airport is considerably more chill than Chicago. When you enter Chicago’s airport, you are immediately confronted with ticketing and check-in, and between each airline counter, there's a security check-in. No pomp-and-circumstance, no shops, I couldn’t even find a restroom. Just lines, more lines, crowds, and groups of people, some more confused than me. All I could think is what a mess it would be during the winter when everyone is tracking snow inside and there’s puddles of cold water everywhere.
By contrast, Atlanta’s airport terminal is flanked on either side by the ticketing and check-in counters, and once you’re past that, you walk through a little atrium, perfect for the incredible friend who decided to come pick you up form the airport and is waiting around while your flight is delayed. Or if you’re waiting for a ride, there's an actual place to sit, there are restaurants and shopping, and that’s before even going through security. Personally, I don't have time to shop when I’m at the airport, but it’s nice that they’re there, they make Hartsfield-Jackson feel more like a mall than an airport. You know what's not stressful? Malls. Malls are meccas of joy and leisure.
The Atlanta atrium boasts nine different restaurants including two coffee shops, three fast food restaurants, three casual dining restaurants, and a fine-dining spot. The IHOP and the Burger King are open 24 hours if you’re starving after getting off that red-eye back from Timbuktu. For the shoppers among us, there are 10 shops available in the terminal with everything from books, to clothes, to souvenirs.
Now that we’re checked in, we’ve got our boarding pass, our Atlanta peach key chain, and a coffee (make sure you drink that, you can’t take it through security), it’s time to get in line for security.
Talk about stress. You spend an hour standing in line just to be barked at to strip down and put your belongings in bins. Security is no one's favorite, but even with all of this, security check is easy at the Atlanta airport compared to some others. Part of this is because everyone gets funneled to the same security area, unlike Chicago’s free-for-all unlabeled mess. While no one will ever accuse Atlanta’s TSA agents of being friendly, they are clear and concise in their instructions. Some TSA security tips I’ve picked up to make for a less stressful security screening:
When you’re about 10 or 15 people back from the front of the line (depending on how fast the line is moving) empty your pockets. Wrappers, money, wallet, phone, take everything out and put it in your carry on.
Untie your shoes (if not wearing slip-ons) so you can easily slip them off when you get to the front.
If you have a laptop, take it out of your bag and hold it. It has to go in a separate bin from your bag and shoes.
If you’re wearing a scarf, hat, or other bulky clothing, take it all off and put it in a bin.
When you get to the front of the line, put your shoes and bag in a bin, and put your laptop in a separate bin.
Did you finish that coffee you had? If not, toss it, you’re not getting it through security.
Listen to the TSA agents when they tell you where to stand and what to do with your hands. Stay alert, and don’t take their attitude personally. They’re always like that.
Once you’re through security, grab your stuff and leave the immediate screening area to get re-situated if it's especially busy. It can get a little clogged up there on the other side of the x-ray machine. Now, it’s easy peasy to figure out where to go. You should have found your flight's departure gate when you were back at the ticketing/check-in area. The one main security check point funnels everyone toward a set of escalators that take you to the below-ground train (called a people mover) which will take you to the different concourses.
The People Mover
I love this set up at the Atlanta Airport. Each concourse is parallel to the next, connected by a speedy little subway that will take you from one end to the other in under five minutes. There are a few reasons why this is such a fantastic setup. The airport is comprised of seven concourses (including international) spread out across about 1.5 miles. The 207 gates are split between these seven concourses, and each concourse hosts a different handful of shopping and dining options.
So, if you’re at the terminal and you’re running late for a flight that's taking off from gate E32, you don’t have to run the nearly two miles to get there. Hop on the people mover and you’ll be there in no time. Well, you might have to run through the concourse.
I was recently at the Atlanta Airport for a 6:00am flight and found that the people mover was down for maintenance. Seeing that it was about four in the morning, it took several minutes and several times of hearing the mechanical voice announce that the train was not coming for me and my fellow early morning zombies to realize what it was saying. Once we did, we started walking. I, in fact, had a flight at E32, which meant I pretty much had to walk the entire length of the airport. But, it wasn’t all bad. Since I usually take the people-mover, I didn’t know there were art and history displays between each concourse to break up the monotony. There's also those fancy moving sidewalks which make you feel like the flash walking at double a normal human’s speed. Oh, I’m the only one who does that? Well this is embarrassing…
The first concourse, the closest to the terminal, is Concourse T. Is that why it's called Concourse T and not Concourse A? I don’t know. But it’s what I go with, otherwise, the fact that T comes before A, B, C, D, E, and F in the line of concourses would really bug me.
Concourse T is the smallest of all the concourses, it only has 15 gates, but that's because the planes can only park on one side of it, the terminal is on the other side. There are still several food and shopping options at this terminal if you don't want to stray too far from your gate.
For shopping options, there's a great little shop called 3oz Travel Size Essentials, in case your hairspray or toothpaste was taken away by a diligent TSA agent. I love the Headphone Hub, because anyone who's been on a plane…ever, knows that headphones are a must. And of course, the requisite Atlanta News and Gifts. You know you need another peach-shaped magnet.
As far as food goes, there are three coffee shops, including Corner Bakery Café, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, and Goldberg's Bagels. I love a bagel and coffee in the morning and usually get mine to-go, and head to my gate. If you happen to be there around lunch or dinner time, there are options for that, too.
The second stop on the people mover will take you to Concourse A. If you’re stopping through on a quick layover and looking for something fast and delicious, let me recommend a southern favorite: Chick-fil-a. If you’re originally from the north, like I am, you may have never heard of this casual-dining-meets-fast-food gem. If that's the case, do yourself a favor and drop by. The chicken is juicy and fresh, perfectly-seasoned and accompanied by some of the best fries for the money. There is no other fast food restaurant where I am greeted with the friendliness and courtesy that Chick-fil-a boasts. That in itself is enough to keep me coming back.
Looking for something a little fancier? On the upper level, there are two nice sit-down restaurants. PF Chang’s on one side, and Budweiser Bar and Grill on the other. You’re bound to find something that suits you.
If you’re not hungry, there are lots of shopping options, including a Salvatore Ferragamo/Bulgari shop, you know, in case you have a couple hundred bucks laying around that you’re not using.
Just a short five-minute walk away, or a thirty-second train ride away you’ll find the next terminal. There is some redundancy in the terminals, a few restaurants are represented at two or three concourses, in case you don’t have the time or inclination to stray too far from your gate.
One of these repeated stops is SweetWater Draft House and Grill. Their food is just normal, specializing in pub grub like chicken sandwiches, burgers, and fries. The real draw at this restaurant is the variety of brews on tap and the sports played on the TV screens that line the seating area. SweetWater can be found at Concourse A or B, and is a good place to stop if you happen to be traveling on game day.
So, let's be real for a second, most people aren’t planning to go shopping at the airport. That said, there are a few things that you might genuinely want or need once you get to the other side of security. Headphones, a book, cell phone chargers, magazines, a snack, cough drops…you get the picture. I, for one, get terribly bored while traveling. I’m not especially productive work-wise until I’m on the plane, the terminal is too busy and noisy for me, no, there’s not much point in bringing out my laptop. I have my phone and tablet, but many times there are so many people on the Wi-Fi that it can be more frustrating than I want to deal with.
Time to get old fashioned about it. Enter Buckhead Books and Simply Books. These two bookshops are located in Concourse B and it’s definitely worth stopping by if you’re like me and want to give the electronics a rest. Read something, learn something, disconnect for a bit. You might like it.
We’ve made it halfway, when is your flight, anyway? Okay, so here in Concourse C, there’s some old franchise favorites. You’ve got your Starbucks, Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Chick-Fil-A, and Atlanta Bread Company (like a Southern Panera). But if you’re looking for a little something off the beaten path, or you’re just tired of greasy, reheated airport food, take a walk down to gate C42. Here you will find Fresh Healthy Café. From wraps, to salads (both greens and quinoa), to paninis, this cafe is a welcome departure from the path of pub grub and fast food that is typical at most airports. Their specialty seems to be their variety of deliciously innovative smoothies, made with fresh fruit and complimentary add-ins. They won’t get any originality points for the name, but at least you know what your’e getting. Fresh, healthy, cafe food.
“The cost is worth the security of knowing that your lunch isn't going to come back with a vengeance midway through your flight.” -David C., verified yelp review.
Well said, David. Well said.
As far as shopping goes, Concourse C is a little light on interesting options. But, if you have time to kill, I personally enjoy browsing the selection of sparkly items at the Swarovski Crystals store. I’m not known to buy much of anything, but the sensation of stepping inside glitter is unparalleled. What could be better?
In case you’re not of the window-shopping variety, there's an Inmotion Entertainment store located in the extremely convenient spot right beside the escalators. A one-stop shop for all things electronic, this is an airport must-have. They have run-of-the-mill headphones and charging cords, in addition to the less requisite but still fun Bose boomboxes and fitness trackers, which I think is genius. Where better to start counting your steps than when you’re running from one end of the airport to the other trying to catch a connecting flight?
Concourse D and E
Concourses D and E hold many of the same wonders that the other terminals set forth. Food and shopping abound. What I like about Concourse D is the upper level where you can get away from some of the hubbub of the airport. You will, of course, trade one low den of noise for another, as the upper level of Concourse D is reserved exclusively for a large Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant. If you’re a fan of college football, this is your one-stop shop for wings, beer, and sports. If college football doesn’t float your boat, well, stay off the upper level. And get out of Georgia while you’re at it. Football is king here.
Concourse E might look like the end of the line for the people mover, but it’s not, because the international terminal lies beyond it, but we’ll get to that in a moment. Concourse E is set up the best of all the terminals, I think. This is because the food and shopping is concentrated in the central section of the terminal near the escalator, making it super easy to stop in and get what you want on your way to another gate.
You can also use Concourse E to access Terminal F, or the international terminal. Just head toward Caribou Coffee (which you probably were already doing) and keep going. If you see the Brooks Brothers, you’re almost there.
International Terminal/Concourse F
Concourse F is the Big Daddy of airport terminals. It’s almost an airport unto itself. Three levels of security, baggage claim, gates, shops, restaurants, lounges, and more. The terminal was specially designed to create an easy and stress-free experience. As stress-free as an airport can be, that is. The genius of the international terminal lies in its three levels. Arrivals and departures take place on separate levels, with a third mezzanine level mostly used for the first-class lounge area, but with some “regular people” seating as well.
Keeping the arrivals and departures on a separate level is a smart idea for a couple of reasons. Firstly, if you have ever been on a plane where your departure was delayed (and I’m sorry that happened to you), you know that it can be a real pain once your connecting flight finally pulls in and you’ve got two or three planes full of people waiting around at the same gate, only to have to move aside for the new arrivals to get off the plane.
Not a problem at Hartsfield-Jackson.
What's more, there's so much going on security-wise at the international terminal, it just makes sense to keep the two groups separate. This allows arrivals to go through their second security screening without worrying about crowds of newcomers at customs and baggage claim.
Traveling isn’t cheap, as anyone will tell you, and most people want to spend their money on their vacation, not on buying stuff at the airport on their way to their vacation.
If that's your case, fear not, you don’t have to spend money while waiting around for your flight or ride. Here are a few suggestions to keep yourself busy at Atlanta’s, or any other airport.
Atlanta has free Wi-Fi. I didn’t know this was something to be happy about until I visited Chicago’s airport and that winter storm delayed my flight for five hours. O’hare ever so graciously bestowed upon me a half-hour of free Wi-Fi, and then promptly ordered me to pay them another seven dollars to get continued access. Seven dollars! That's after I spent 15 dollars on a dry piece of “Chicago” style pizza (believe me it wasn’t) and another $12 on some chips, a roll of cough drops, and a $5 chapstick. Pay for Wi-Fi? Uhhhh, no thank you. Thanks, Atlanta, for not taking advantage of my desire for internet access during a time of need.
That being said, there are probably a couple thousand people connected to said free Wi-Fi, so don’t expect to stream a movie or anything. If you’re there in the middle of the night or wee hours of the morning, it’s possible. But at the high travel hours, some basic text-based internet browsing is probably the best you can expect.
If you’re like me, there's probably a list of books you’ve heard about from friends or on the radio that you’ve been meaning to read. With a little planning you can do so and not spend a dime. Instead of buying the books and magazines at the airport, check a few out from the library or borrow from friends and take them with you on your trip. Or better yet, buy or rent them on an E-reader to keep your bag nice and light.
Now this is traveling 101, but in case you need a reminder, remember to sync new music or a couple of audiobooks to your smartphone or mp3 player before you leave home. You’ll kick yourself if you don’t. Don’t forget earbuds.
Pack your food! It’s not that hard, and it doesn’t take that long or too much space. This won’t work for liquids like drinks or salsa (yes, salsa) because it’ll get thrown out at security. But things like sandwiches, chips, snacks, and even fruits and veggies will be just fine, and save you a ton when you get the munchies a little later and the flight attendant is trying to tempt you with an $8 bag of pretzels. A little tip I got from Pinterest: pack an empty water bottle in your carry-on. Once you get through security, fill it up at a water fountain or in the bathroom. Ta-da! Take that, overpriced airport food!
There are a great many interesting things happening at the airport, and interesting people doing them. Unplug, and soak up the reality that's happening all around you. Where else will you find young couples on their honeymoon side-by-side with brand-new immigrants from Nova Scotia, families on their way to Boca, and young adventurers on their way home from Colorado? People-watching is fun, but why not go ahead and strike up a conversation with the person next to you? They’re probably just as bored as you are, and misery loves company, after all. And, hey, maybe you’ll make a friend. Or at the very least, get a good story out of it.
In the end, hanging around the airport doesn’t have to be the chore leg of travel you’ve probably always made it out to be. If you follow the tips I’ve suggested, you’ll have a good time, and a significantly less stressful one at that. Less stress = happy traveler. This was a pretty in-depth look at the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, but if we missed something, please contact us and let us know, we’d love to hear from you.
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