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Airport Review: How to Brave Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson Airport

Airport Review: How to Brave Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson Airport

(Photo: JL Johnson/Flickr)

In Yahoo Travel’s Airport Review series, we dissect everything you need to know—from check-in to take off to landing. Oh, and curious what it takes to get a perfect, 5-star rating? A hotel beyond security check—and not many pass the test. 

hartsfield jackson international airport

(Photo: Andrew Cohen/Flickr)

Airport Star Rating: 4 stars. The world’s busiest airport for passenger traffic is upping its game on the food and beverage front, giving flyers more local choices on what to eat and where to fly. 

The Good: As the saying goes: if you want to fly anywhere, you will probably connect through Atlanta. The breadth of destinations served by Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is staggering, including 60 international cities in 45 countries. Delta Air Lines, which operates its biggest hub here, is responsible for the majority of them. From Johannesburg and Jacksonville to Peoria and Portland, there are nonstop flights from Atlanta. Virgin Atlantic is planning a new flight to London Heathrow. And last year, Korean Air became the first airline to offer regular service to Atlanta aboard the gigantic Airbus A380, the world’s biggest commercial passenger plane. As if that weren’t enough, airport officials are planning $2 million in incentives to lure airlines to start new service. Terminal F, which opened in 2013 and is now known as the Maynard H. Jackson Jr. International Terminal is the airport’s new international facility, giving the airport additional much-needed capacity.

contruction atlanta airport

(Photo: Getty Images)

The Bad:  Construction is almost always a constant within the terminals which, on occasion, struggle to maintain comfortably cool temperatures when congested with too many passengers.

Walkability: The Plane Train system is a convenient connector between terminals. But once you get to the concourse, expect a long walk. Moving walkways are only found in the new F concourse, meaning that passengers with flights at the very end of the terminal are in for some exercise.

Security and Immigration: Security is ever-present, but don’t expect Atlanta’s typical southern hospitality to shine through. Passengers frequently complain that the TSA and immigration staff here can be both ornery and downright rude at times. Luckily, new automated kiosks at immigration will speed up the process for those who do not hold Global Entry status.

image

Canceled flights light up the departures board (Photo: Getty Images)

Delays: Despite having five runways, Atlanta is still vulnerable to delays, often because of afternoon thunderstorms. And with the heavy volume of scheduled flights, terminals can become overcrowded quickly. But during severe delays, many airport lounges and restaurants will remain open past normal hours. Another positive about being such a large airport is that Delta has planes on standby in the hangar that can often be subbed in if needed.

Public Spaces: Given the airport’s layout, a train ride is required to reach most gates. There are few public spaces for non-travelers to use although the main terminal building features an atrium with natural light, a decent food court, and some seating for those wishing to await loved ones. While public art and photography are plentiful and entertaining, do not expect many landside tarmac views for aviation buffs.

sculptures atlanta airport

Sculptures line the halls between terminals (Photo: Rich/Flickr)

Plugs/Charging Outlets: The airport has some outlets, but Delta took it upon itself to become one of the first airlines to install its own charging stations in gate areas. They are extremely popular, and many charging stations also boast USB outlets. Earlier this month, the airport started offering free Wi-Fi in all terminals… finally!

Transportation: Atlanta’s MARTA train connects travelers to downtown and Buckhead from an airport station for the low price of $2.50. Dozens of airport hotels run free shuttles to the airport, and a new rental car facility, reached via train, stores thousands of automobile options.

train terminals atlanta airport

(Photo: Andrew Cohen/Flickr)

Hotel: There is no hotel inside security, although airport officials are considering this option (where to put it is a big question). Still, there are plentiful choices at all price points around the airport’s perimeter. For many, the Renaissance Concourse Atlanta Airport Hotel is the best option considering half of its rooms directly face the runway with balconies for al fresco plane spotting. Quick naps are a cinch in the Minute Suites facility, which rents sleeping rooms by the hour in Concourse B.

Food: Atlanta’s food spectrum is a highlight for those with a layover here. A recent revamp of options has brought dozens more local Atlanta favorites. And with frequent trains connecting the terminals, all options are open to everyone. Here is a breakdown of the best meals, concourse by concourse.

Concourse T (yes, the first concourse is labeled T): Originally the international terminal, this is one of the airport’s more compact concourses. The world’s first airport IHOP now serves travelers its trademark pancake menu `round-the-clock before they pass through security.

Concourse A: Sandwich lovers have their pick between Boar’s Head Deli, Jersey Mike’s Subs, or Brioche Doree. Tex-Mex appetites can get their fix at Qdoba (the airport’s newest and second location) while Asian fusion cravings are satisfied at the new P.F. Chang’s. Atlanta’s local brew, SweetWater, has opened a microbrewery where passengers can enjoy pints and tasty pub grub. Varasano’s keeps its Buckhead pizza menu lively with live piano music in the evening.

paschals food atlanta airport

The soul food served at Paschals (Photo: Quick Fix/Flickr)

Concourse B: Paschal’s has one of its airport Southern cooking cafes in this concourse, which is often the busiest of them all due to its ability to park the widest range of aircraft here. Menu items include local staples like country fried steak, fried chicken, and mac ‘n’ cheese. The new Gabriel’s Bakery Café is another locally born option that does everything from soup and sandwiches to naughtier treats like their famous Whoopie Pies.

Concourse C: Fans of Chick-fil-A will find one of its two Atlanta airport restaurants here (the other is in Concourse A). Another southern favorite is the terminal’s Varsity, which is a smaller version of the famous downtown burger and hot dog joint. Overseas flyers will find another Varsity in Concourse F.

Concourse D: Perhaps one of the weaker concourses on the food front. Still, there are some tasty options, including well-known names Buffalo Wild Wings (featuring 24 beers on draft), Chipotle, and Wolfgang Puck.

one flew south atlanta airport

(Photo: One Flew South/Facebook)

Concourse E: Home to Atlanta’s best-kept secret, One Flew South, this international concourse frequently sees travelers from all concourses rushing here to dine on “southernational” cuisine. One Flew South’s global menu blends regional flavors and includes the popular open-faced meatloaf sandwich, a salmon hot pot, shrimp and grits, and pork belly sliders. The separate sushi menu is the best in the airport, and this was the first airport restaurant to be considered for a James Beard Award. The adjacent food court soothes traveler nerves with live piano music in the evening.

Concourse F: The food court here was named best in the world by The Moodie Report in its annual Airport Food and Beverage Awards. On offer are numerous Atlanta favorites including Mexican taqueria, The Original El Taco, and Elena Garcia’s Tapas bar, which is the second airport location for its namesake Venezuelan chef.

shopping tommy hilfiger atlanta airport

(Photo: HartsfieldJacksonInternationalAirport.com)

Shopping: Long connections are quite common, but there is plenty of temptation for the credit card. Duty free shops in Terminals E and F are spacious, and big-name brands like Brookstone, Brooks Brothers, Michael Kors, Swarovski, and Tumi are found across the terminals. There is no chance of getting bored here. While there is no dedicated pharmacy, sundries stores tend to carry most over-the-counter medications. Spa-goers can choose between Concourse A and C locations of XpresSpa for a quick massage.

In Short: The Atlanta airport is often the butt of travel jokes, but the reality is that this facility (while not as architecturally stunning as Detroit or the new terminals at London Heathrow) connects the world. It deserves its standing within the global ranks and only has plans to get bigger and better.

Ramsey Qubein flies nearly 350,000 miles per year and is a regular contributor to BBC Worldwide and Business Traveler, covering hotels, airports, airlines, and loyalty programs.  

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