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Atlanta Airport Guide
Atlanta Airport is the world’s busiest airport. Over 100 million passengers pass through this airport each year, as it is a major hub for Delta. Although it might look daunting to connect in, once you understand the layout, it will be one of the easiest airports to connect in. In this Atlanta Airport Guide, I want to take a closer look into this airport. It will cover everything from how to make your connection, to the food options at each terminal.
Terminal Layout and Concourses:
Overall, once you understand the layout of Atlanta Airport, it is the easiest large airport in the US to connect in. The concourses are shaped like ribcages, and the “spine” runs through the center of each terminal, which is where the train and walkways are located. This makes it very easy to get around the airport, and it means it won’t be longer than about 20-25 minutes to get anywhere in the airport.
Concourse T is the original concourse at ATL. This concourse has 21 gates, which makes it the second smallest concourse behind Concourse F. This terminal is used by Delta, American, United, JetBlue, and Frontier. Delta seems to like to use this concourse for high-yield business routes, such as Atlanta to New York LaGuardia, Austin, etc. There is an Auntie Anne’s, Bojangles, Jamba, Goldberg’s Bagels, and more for food options.
Concourse A contains 29 gates and is used exclusively by Delta. Along with Concourse B, this is where most of Delta’s flights leave from. Delta is also the exclusive tenant of this terminal. Some food options available are Chick-Fil-A, Auntie Anne’s, McDonald’s, and Shake Shack, among others.
Concourse B contains 32 gates, and just like Concourse A, it is used only by Delta. This concourse has similar food options to Concourse A, such as Auntie Anne’s, but also has different options like Bobby’s Burger Palace, Wendy’s, Popeyes, and more.
Concourse C has 34 gates and is home to Southwest’s operations as well as some of Delta’s. Food options at this concourse include The Original El Taco, The Varsity (I highly recommend it), Longhorn Steakhouse, and more.
Concourse D contains 40 gates, and is home to most of Delta’s regional operations, Frontier, American, Alaska, and Spirit. Some food options at this concourse include Wolfgang Puck, Phillips Seafood, Chipotle, and more. This is my least favorite concourse, as the walkways are narrow and there is not enough seating for the number of people.
Concourse E has 39 gates, and is used by Delta for primarily international flights, Alaska, American, Frontier, and Spirit. Food options at this concourse include Boar’s Head, McDonald’s, Qdoba, and more.
Concourse F has 15 gates and is used by Delta primarily for international flights and other international airlines. Food options include Pei Wei, the Variety, The Original El Taco, and more. This is also home to the Club at ATL, which is located to the left of the food court and across from the SkyClub on the second level. Concourse F is also home to international check-in and baggage claim.
Atlanta Airport Guide – Security Checkpoints
Although I find connecting in ATL very pleasant, departing or arriving there is always a hassle. There is a total of 4 checkpoints. Three are in the Domestic Terminal and the 4th in the International Terminal. The hours are:
- F Gates: 4 AM to 12 AM
- Main Checkpoint: 24/7
- South Checkpoint (PreCheck + Clear): 4 AM to 12 AM
- North Checkpoint: 4:15 AM to 8 PM
The wait times can be brutal even if you have Clear and PreCheck since Delta includes PreCheck if you have a Delta Platinum or Reserve card and Clear if you have Diamond Medallion status. Thus, it is sometimes faster to go in the non-PreCheck line or regular PreCheck line instead. Furthermore, if you are flying Delta, going through security at Concourse F is even faster. But that can only be done in the following scenarios:
- You are not renting a car (the shuttles to the Domestic Terminal are unreliable)
- You are not checking bags and are not parking at the Domestic Terminal
- You were picked up at the domestic terminal, and you are visiting Atlanta (thus not returning)
What Gate(s) Will My Flights Leave Out Of?
Note that no matter which concourse you leave out of, it doesn’t matter if it says terminal N or S. This is referring to Domestic Terminal North and South, which just refers to the location of the ticket counters and baggage claims. Delta is in Domestic Terminal South, whereas all other airlines are in Domestic Terminal North. If it says I, that is referring to the International Terminal.
This is unknown, as it depends on where your inbound aircraft comes from. Generally, if you are flying internationally, it will leave from E or F, but it could still leave from another concourse. Furthermore, Delta seems to like to assign profitable business routes out of T Gates, as it is closest to the airport entrance. If you are flying on Delta Connection, your flight will most likely fly out of Concourse D. You will be able to see your gate assignments about 24 hours before each flight, but it might change in the hours before your flight.
All Other Airlines
Most domestic flights leave out of Concourses D or T for all other airlines. But, if you are flying on Southwest, it will leave out of Concourse C. If you are flying internationally, then your flight will depart from Concourse F.
Baggage Handling and Transfers
If you are connecting domestically, from, say, American to Delta, or vice versa, then this is very easy as long as you aren’t checking bags. It is basically no different than a Delta connection. Just make sure that you don’t forget to do mobile check-in. Otherwise, you might miss the check-in cutoff.
If you are doing a domestic-to-international connection from, say, Delta to Qatar Airways, and you are checking bags, this means that you will have to pick up your bag at the Domestic Baggage Claim, and then take the shuttle bus to the International Terminal. But, if you are flying a Delta “Core Partner”, then you shouldn’t have issues getting your bag through checked to your final destination.
Time Considerations for Connecting Flights
For connecting flights, the Minimum Connection Time (MCT) is the following:
- 35 Minutes for Domestic to Domestic
- 40 Minutes for Domestic to International
- 90 Minutes for International to International
- 90 Minutes for International to Domestic
Some exceptions to this rule are:
- A 50 Minute Minimum Connection Time when coming from Aruba, Bermuda, Freeport, or Nassau.
- A 45 Minute Minimum Connection Time when flying from Calgary.
In general, I would say it is ideal to book an hour or more connection for Domestic to Domestic flights, about an hour and a half for Domestic to International flights, and then two hours for International to Domestic and International to International flights.
Domestic-to-International Connections on Delta
For Domestic to International flights on Delta, it should be super straightforward. Although a small number of international flights leave from Concourse T, the vast majority leave from Concourse E and some from F.
Atlanta Airport Guide – Customs and Immigration Procedures
Customs and Immigration is usually quite simple at ATL. If you arrive at Concourse E, then you go through immigration, recheck your bags, and then also go through security. If you arrive at Concourse F, then you go through immigration, reclaim and recheck your bags, and then go through security at the main Concourse F security.
That said, if you live in Atlanta and arrive in Concourse E, it is a long walk. This is because although there is an immigration facility in Concourse E, it is only used for connecting passengers. This means you have to use the facility in Concourse F, which might be a half a mile walk.
How Early Should I Arrive at the Airport?
If you are flying on Delta, then I would recommend arriving 2 hours before departure if you don’t have a checked bag. If you have a checked bag, then I would recommend arriving about 2 and a half hours before departure. I would recommend arriving at those times even if you have PreCheck, Digital ID, or CLEAR. This is because the security wait times are extremely unreliable, so it is good to have enough time in case lines are long.
Atlanta Airport Guide – Concourse Changes
Overall, concourse changes at Atlanta Airport are a breeze. If you are connecting to the next terminal, such as Concourse A to B, then it is almost always easier to walk. But, if The Plane Train is just about to arrive or currently at your concourse, then it might be easier to take the Plane Train.
If you are connecting from, say, Concourse A to Concourse E, then the train will be super quick. You should be able to get to the basement of Concourse E in less than 5 minutes.
If you have extra time, then I would definitely recommend walking to your next gate. It always feels nice to stretch your legs, and there is a very interesting display between Concourse A and B, as well as a History of Atlanta display between Concourse B and C.
Tips for a Smooth Connection
In order to have a smooth connection, I would recommend a few things. If you have an hour or less, and your flight is on time, then you should head straight to your gate. If you get there and you have to wait about 10 minutes, then you might have enough time to use the nearest bathroom.
My Experience at Atlanta Airport.
I have family in Atlanta, and this is also the most convenient airport to connect in when I visit my grandparents. If I had to guess, I have likely connected in this airport over 70 times in my life. This was also the first airport that I have flown into. Thus, I feel very comfortable booking tight connections as I am very familiar with the layout. With that being said, I wanted to put some things to the test during my recent trip to Miami.
Our outbound flights had a connecting time of 50 minutes, while our return flight had a layover of 2 hours and 43 minutes. Our flight to Atlanta got delayed, so we only had a ~40 minute connection. Despite that, and having to go from Concourse B to A, we still made our connection. In fact, we had time to use the bathroom and got there right when our zone was boarding (Main Cabin 1).
For our return flights, we arrived into Concourse A, and then it left out of B. My mom and I like the Concourse E food court, so we took the train there. We were able to eat food, and then I had enough time to walk in every concourse (which took about an hour), and I made it to our connecting flight right when it was boarding. I really can’t think of another airport where it is possible to do this.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much time is enough time to leave the airport during the layover?
Atlanta Airport is a hassle to get in and out of, so I recommend at least 5 or 6 hours if you were to leave the airport. Note that Delta has a maximum connection time on domestic flights of 4 hours, so unless you are connecting to or from an international flight, you will not find an itinerary that allows this.
Hotel Options Near the Airport
The neighborhood around Atlanta is quite dangerous. I’ve seen reports of car break-ins at several different airport hotels, so if possible, I’d recommend staying near the GICC/Gateway Hotels ATL SkyTrain station. The closest hotels to that station are the Renaissance Atlanta Airport Gateway, the Marriott Gateway, the Tru Hotel College Park, and the Springhill Suites College Park.
Renting a Car Near Atlanta Airport
Overall, renting a car at Atlanta Airport can be a hassle, especially if you are coming from the international terminal. If you are coming from the domestic terminal, you simply exit the terminal, and then take the ATL SkyTrain two stops to the Rental Car Center. If you arrive at the international terminal, then you have to take a shuttle to the domestic terminal, and then take the SkyTrain. The problem with this is that the shuttle is unreliable, so you might have to wait a while to get to the Domestic Terminal.
Atlanta Airport Guide – Lounge Options
If you are a Delta SkyClub member, you are in luck if you are flying through ATL. There are 9 SkyClubs throughout the airport, with one in each concourse and 2 in concourses A and D. Only Concourses E and F feature showers. Furthermore, Concourses E and F also tend to have better food, so those are the best ones to visit if you have the time. The SkyClub at Concourse B has a grab and go option as well. In terms of crowds, the central Concourse B club, as well as the club in Concourse E have the worst crowds. For example, here was the crowds at around 5PM:
If you are not flying Delta or a SkyTeam airline, there are still a few different lounge options. In Concourse T, there is an Admirals Club and a United Club. The Admirals Club hours are Sunday to Friday, 5 AM to 8 PM, and Saturday, 5 AM to 7:15 PM. The United Club is open from 4:45 AM to 7:45 PM daily. If you are flying a foreign carrier or trying to access a Priority Pass lounge, there is The Club at ATL, located in the center of Concourse F. However, this lounge isn’t great. There is often a long wait, and it is also very crowded.
In 2024, an Amex Centurion Lounge will open, and that will be located in the center of Concourse E. That Centurion Lounge is located in the center of the concourse.
Flight Assistance Desks
If you have issues with your flight, there are multiple Delta “Need Help” desks throughout the airport. These are located near T8, A18, B19, C43, D15, the center of Concourse E, and F6.
Atlanta Airport Guide – Final Thoughts
While Atlanta Airport isn’t the best if you are flying in or out of it, it is one of the best U.S. airports to connect in. Plus, although it can get quite busy during peak times, it is a very pleasant place to be if you have a long layover, as there are plenty of places to eat.