Atlanta Is The World's Busiest Airport: Here's How To Survive It

Brace yourself for the exhilarating whirlwind that is Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL), the world's busiest airport. ATL welcomes an average of 275,000 passengers daily, connecting them to 150 U.S. destinations and over 75 international locations.

Hartsfield-Jackson isn't just bustling — it's vast. With sprawling terminals, thousands of travelers, long lines, and unpredictable flight delays, keeping your sanity at ATL requires patience, preparedness, and a generous allocation of time. As therapist Daniel Rinaldi says, "Being well-prepared can help reduce anxiety ... Make sure to arrive early, and give yourself plenty of time at the airport to avoid rushing and feeling overwhelmed." How early you need to arrive at the airport may vary by airline, but ATL recommends at least two hours before domestic flights and three hours for global adventures.

But ATL isn't just about catching flights — it's about delightful bites, retail therapy, and even admiring art. With a myriad of dining options, unique shops, daily live music, and an ever-evolving array of art exhibitions, you can do more than just survive the airport — you might even enjoy it.

Plan ground transportation ahead of time

Over 200 companies provide ground transportation for ATL. Share a shuttle, ride in style with a limo, or go traditional with a metered cab, with set fees for travel between ATL and the central business district. All these options line up in the Ground Transportation Center/West Curb (between doors W-1 and W-2) of the Domestic Terminal or outside the arrival level in the International Terminal (door A-1). For rideshare options, both Uber and Lyft are authorized to serve ATL. In the Domestic Terminal, the Rideshare Pick-up Zone is in the North Economy lot, a short walk from the North and South baggage claims. Follow the orange signs. Pick-ups in the International Terminal are on the outer curb of arrivals (exit door A-1 or A-2). Looking for a rental? Just hop on the SkyTrain to reach ATL's Rental Car Center, which operates 24/7.

For a dash of local flavor, jump aboard MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority). Seamlessly integrated within the Domestic Terminal, MARTA whisks you away to Downtown in 15 minutes. You can also ride to Midtown, Buckhead, and Perimeter with stops near most hotels, convention centers, and tourist destinations.

If you're driving to ATL, thousands of parking spaces beckon from both the Domestic and International Terminals. Stay informed with the ATL website or tune into 830 AM for the latest space status. For travelers seeking off-site parking, the airport keeps a list of providers.

Arm yourself with airport apps

Gone are the days of anxiously squinting at overhead screens and the "Did I just miss an announcement?" panic moments. The Atlanta airport offers its own official flight-tracking service, Trak-A-Flight. From sudden schedule tweaks to unexpected delays and cancellations, you'll have timely flight alerts right at your fingertips. You can also sign up ahead of time to receive reminders about upcoming flights.

In addition to Trak-A-Flight, you might also take advantage of the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) app, MyTSA, with several features to help navigate a busy airport. Wondering how long you'll be twiddling your thumbs at security? The app's historically-based predictions will shed some light, offering a valuable planning tool to predict security checkpoint wait times. MyTSA's crowdsourced updates also provide real-time reports on security line lengths. If you're a TSA PreCheck member or considering joining, use the app to find the closest application center and get info on PreCheck lanes. MyTSA also gives up-to-date information about delays and, if needed, announcements about security developments in and around the airport.

Navigate Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport with ease

ATL is a sprawling metropolis of an airport. But don't let its size intimidate you! It's well-designed with good signage. ATL is a grand corridor bookended by two major gates: the Domestic Terminal and the International Terminal. Nestled between these giants are seven bustling concourses.

If you're outside security, the airport offers a free Terminal-to-Terminal shuttle. This picks up at the Ground Transportation Center/West Curb on the Domestic side and outside the arrivals level on the International side. Shuttles run approximately every 10 minutes and the ride between terminals usually takes about 12 minutes.

Already cleared security? The Plane Train is an underground marvel that darts between the terminals and stops at each concourse. Trains come frequently, usually every two minutes. Clear announcements are made before each stop, ensuring you know when to get off. The trip from the Domestic to the International Terminal is only a few minutes. If you're not in a rush, there's also a pedestrian walkway that runs parallel to the Plane Train. This can be a quieter, less crowded option, especially during peak travel times.

Before you dash off to the airport, swipe and zoom through interactive maps on the airport's official website. You can filter by category to locate everything from bars to barbershops. It's worth taking time to familiarize yourself with the airport's general layout, along with key locations such as your departure gate, restrooms, and where to snag your next caffeine fix.

Prepare for security

Before you pack, do a quick check with the MyTSA app or the TSA website to familiarize yourself with the latest TSA guidelines. If you're wondering which security line is the quickest at ATL, don't rely on guesswork—the airport's TSA Security Wait Times feature provides real-time wait times for each checkpoint.

If possible, dress for success with slip-on shoes and avoid the worst things to wear through security, such as bulky clothing, heavy jewelry, belts, or any clothing with large metal components. Triggering an alarm only slows things down and adds more stress. Don't forget to wear socks—it's no fun to walk barefoot through security screening while your shoes are in a bin.

Organize your carry-on with the screening process in mind. Electronics larger than a cellphone, such as laptops and tablets, should be easily accessible since you'll need to place them in a separate bin. The same goes for your liquids bag (remember the 3-1-1 rule: 3.4 oz or less per container, 1 quart-sized bag, 1 bag per traveler).

Apply for TSA PreCheck

Wish you could flash-forward past those long security lines waiting for you at the world's busiest airport? TSA PreCheck grants that wish with an expedited screening process for pre-approved travelers. With TSA PreCheck, most travelers breeze through security in under ten minutes. Forget the rigmarole of juggling shoes, belts, and light jackets. And say goodbye to the tedious dance of pulling out your laptop or mini shampoo bottles. With TSA PreCheck, everything can stay put.

To apply, visit the official TSA website and fill out an application. This typically takes about 5 minutes. After completing an online application, you'll schedule a 10-minute appointment for an in-person background check and fingerprinting. If approved, you'll receive a Known Traveler Number (KTN) and be eligible for expedited screening. While the length of time it takes to get approved for TSA PreCheck is typically just three to five days, some applications take up to 60 days.

As of October 2023, new enrollment for TSA PreCheck is $78 for five years. Or, if you're savvy with your credit cards, you might not pay a dime. The TSA lists dozens of credit cards that include a perk to cover the TSA PreCheck application fee. More than 200 airports and 90 airlines participate in TSA PreCheck, so you'll reap its benefits beyond just ATL.

Ready yourself for crowds

Even seasoned travelers can be overwhelmed by the size and number of people at ATL. The constant hum of thousands of travelers, intercom announcements, and the general bustle can be draining. Save yourself from that eardrum assault! A pair of noise-canceling earphones is your passport to peace. Dive into your favorite tunes, binge on podcasts, or simply savor the silence.

Even in silence, it's easy to become overwhelmed amidst the throngs of people. Ground yourself with a simple exercise — plant your feet, take a breath, and do a sensory roll call. What do you see? Hear? Feel? Smell? And, if you're munching on an airport pretzel, what do you taste? This is like a mini-vacation for your brain. But don't mistake a grounding exercise for an excuse to stay glued to your gate. With Trak-A-Flight or your airline's app in hand, you'll receive real-time flight updates, so you can confidently venture beyond your gate. Find quieter nooks and discover endless amenities, such as shops, spas, and dining options.

Seeking ultimate peace? Head over to the Interfaith Airport Chapel, your oasis amidst the airport bustle. Post-security locations include Concourse E Chapel and Concourse F Chapel. If you're pre-security, the Domestic Terminal has a slice of tranquility in the chapel by the atrium. Whether you're seeking spiritual solace, or just a hushed corner to gather your thoughts, these sanctuaries are there for you.

Stay hydrated

Travel often plays havoc with our hydration habits. Whether you're the "I'm not drinking so I won't have to visit that teeny-tiny airplane bathroom" kind or you're just thrown off by a change in routine, it's easy for water to get sidelined. Plus, with Atlanta's humidity playing the sneaky villain (especially during the steamy summer months), dehydration can sneak up on you faster than a jet on the runway. Fatigue, headache, dark urine, and dry mouth might be your body's SOS for H2O.

If possible, bring an empty water bottle to take advantage of free touchless Oasis bottle-filling stations throughout the airport. Alternatively, Coca-Cola Vending machines have got your back (and your thirst) with bottled water in every concourse, available 24/7.

Bored of water? Chomp on foods with high water content, such as oranges and strawberries. Or drink your fruit — you'll have plenty of airport smoothie options, such as Atlanta-based Freshens in Concourses A, B, D, and E.

Prevent getting hangry

Hunger is one of the sneakiest culprits of mid-journey mood meltdowns. With flight delays, layovers, and navigating an airport that's 4,700 acres, it's easy to forget about the most basic of human needs. But amidst a sea of already-tense travelers, the last thing anyone wants is a case of hangry — that irritable mood brought on by hunger.

Before you set foot in Hartsfield-Jackson, scout its dining landscape. From quick bites to leisurely meals, the choices are aplenty. A little prep can save you from a frantic food dash across terminals. If you're pressed for time, grab a protein-rich snack, like a hard-boiled egg. Protein keeps you full and focused.

Do brace yourself, because eateries at ATL often have long lines. Avoid the wait by packing your own protein delights, such as trail mix and protein bars. And a pro tip from Dietician Molly Kimball: carry protein powder and mix it into your coffee after security check. It's an instant mood-lifter, ensuring you board your flight satiated and smiley.

Optimize electronics for the airport

ATL boasts one of the top ten fastest free airport Wi-Fi connections globally, as vouched for by Speedtest by Ookla. Whether you're passing the time during a layover or waiting out a flight delay, ATL ensures you can binge your favorite series or make that video call without a hitch.

To take advantage of this strong Wi-Fi, come to the airport with devices fully charged and grab any opportunity you can to charge your devices. Atlanta's airport has charging stations, but they might be inconveniently located or crowded. Your own portable charger can be a lifesaver so you don't have to share with hundreds of other power-hungry travelers. You can also bring a power strip to the airport and stretch the available ports.

You can also optimize your device to make your battery last longer, which can be a lifesaver on travel days. Dim your screen or activate adaptive brightness. Unused apps can be power-hungry, so shut them down. Push notifications? Limit them. And if your device features a power-saving mode, let it do its magic.

Help prevent lost luggage

Ever had that sinking feeling of standing alone at the baggage carousel while everyone else collects their luggage and leaves? Lost luggage is one of the most stressful and time-consuming travel headaches. Rest assured, most luggage arrives safely. According to a 2022 U.S. Department of Transportation report, out of a whopping 470 million bags boarded on domestic flights, only a tiny fraction (6.4 out of 1,000) met an unfortunate fate. But if it's your bag that goes MIA, you probably won't be in the mood for statistics.

Although luggage fate is uncontrollable, there are a few things you can do to help your bag enjoy the trip as much as you do. Avoid overstuffing your suitcase. Heavy bags can get jammed in those pesky conveyor belts. Still have that sentimental sicker from your honeymoon to Greece? Rip it off! Old stickers and tags can misguide your luggage to a whole adventure without you. Also, consider tracking your luggage with an AirTag or SmartTag.

If possible, get to the airport early to ensure your checked bags have ample processing time. This is especially important in a large hub like ATL, where bags may need to travel hundreds of acres to board the correct plane. If you're stopping in Atlanta to catch a connecting flight, try to give your bags (and yourself) a breather with a longer layover. Tight connections can mean your bags are rushing just as much as you are to catch that next flight.

Carry on essentials and comfort items

With glaring lights, a cacophony of announcements, and endless lines, massive airports like ATL can feel less like a gateway to a new destination and more like a test of endurance. And much of that test happens while you're away from your checked baggage, akin to leaving a piece of yourself behind. But what if we changed the narrative? Instead of dreading the wait, let's transform this pause into an extension of your trip — a cozy, relaxed interlude before the main event. With a bit of preparation and some strategic carry-on packing, it's possible.

Beyond your obvious travel basics — passport, travel documents, credit cards — don't forget any medications you might need (note TSA's special instructions for liquid medication). Add some over-the-counter painkillers just in case. Being able to freshen up with simple essentials like face wipes, toothbrush, and toothpaste can work wonders to boost your mood.

As for attire, think layers. The indoor temperature of ATL may contrast with Atlanta's outdoor weather. Comfortable socks and an easily removable soft jacket are advisable. And a cozy scarf isn't just a fashion statement — rolled up, it's an impromptu pillow. Sit back, relax, and enjoy some entertainment. Whether it's that e-book you've been meaning to start or the next binge-worthy show, download digital enjoyment ahead of time so you'll be ready to dive in. Time will fly, almost literally!

Know there's help available

If you're ever lost or unsure, don't hesitate to reach out to airport staff members — that's what they're there for! ATL is on a mission to exceed customer expectations and has been awarded numerous service awards, including the 2023 Airports Council International Airport Service Quality Award: Best Airport at Arrivals Globally.

As you make your way through the airport, you'll likely encounter the diligent Customer Experience Representatives (CXRs). These incredible folks are stationed throughout the airport, ever-ready to lend a helping hand. Whether you have queries about your flight, are curious about ground transportation options, need some info on the Atlanta area, or just want to chat, they've got you covered. Keep an eye out for the striking lime-green vests they don — a clear sign that help is at hand.

The airport experience is further enhanced by the heartwarming presence of the Hartsfield-Jackson Volunteers. This passionate group is the embodiment of Southern hospitality, always enthusiastic to welcome visitors with their trademark warmth and friendliness. Donning vibrant red vests or cozy red sweaters, they'll provide information and direction to make your airport experience more welcoming. On the off-chance that something unexpected does pop up, rest assured that ATL has comprehensive health and safety services throughout the airport.

Enjoy the experience

Atlanta's airport is more than just a transportation hub — it's a destination in and of itself. The airport houses numerous installations and exhibits, highlighting everything from Atlanta's rich history to global artistry. Immerse yourself in "Good Trouble: A Tribute to Congressman John Lewis" located pre-security in the Domestic Atrium. This tribute brings to life the legacy of an iconic leader through photographs, videos, and touching artifacts. Don't miss the Martin Luther King, Jr. Tribute Wall in Concourse E, reminding travelers of the city's pivotal role in shaping history. The impressive "Flight Paths" exhibit, located in the Transportation Mall between Concourse A and B, simulates a walk through a forest, complete with bird sounds and overhead canopy, providing a serene reprieve from the usual airport chaos. The airport is an evolving canvas, with rotating art exhibits that showcase both local and global talents.

The shopping experience includes the expected luxury brands and duty-free shops, along with local specialties. Have you ever tasted the mouth-watering Original Pralines from Savannah's Candy Kitchen? You can find those, along with other candy made from scratch, in Concourses A, B, and C.

And if the rhythm of your journey gets too hectic, let live music serenade you as artists perform daily across the concourses. Or, transform your layover into a spa day. Multiple locations of XpresSpa await to pamper you with massages, nail care, and rejuvenation services.