defending hartsfield.

photo by Tristan Ferne

Atlanta airport by Tristan Ferne

a few days ago i was sitting in a 757 taxiing to a gate at chicago o’hare airport, on my way home from seattle. thanks to the fact that i was traveling on a family member’s frequent flier miles, i was stuck on united and thus the change in chicago.

so as i am sitting there, waiting on the door to open, i started listening to the conversation behind me. it was the usual “see how much i travel” banter, but one thing struck me. the woman who was preening about how much she travels said she “refused to change planes in atlanta.” she said this of course, as she was changing planes in o’hare.


as background, and not to engage in my own travel preening, but solely so you know i speak with a little bit of experience, i have been in most of the world’s largest gateway airports on 4 different continents including (look this up, it’ll be interesting to you) lax, sfo, sea, den, dfw, stl, msp, dtw, ord, jfk, bos, iad, clt, atl, mia, lgw, lhr, cdg, ams, fco, fra, muc, hkg, pek, pvg, icn, nrt, syd and mel. and here is what i can tell you; of that list up there, hartsfield is possibly one of the nest and easiest international gateway airports in the world to change planes in.

i am not sure why we get our bad rap, but let me give you some rationale for this:

1. all those other airports were designed clearly by 3 year olds with tinker toys. nothing makes sense, there are multiple terminals with multiple levels, insane amounts of walking, confusing terminal and gate sequencing, etc.

2. atlanta, by contrast is very simple. there is one terminal, and all the other concourses are attached to it. the numbering scheme is very easy. also, every concourse is laid out exactly the same. to change planes, all you ever have to do, is walk to the center, go down an escalator, board the train, go up an escalator and then go left or right. try getting from one terminal to another in o’hare, paris, l.a., london or dallas this way.

3. so many of the major international gateways require absurd amounts of walking. i swear to change planes in sydney i logged at least three miles of walking. getting from the international terminal at o’hare to a domestic terminal is a trek that would make henry livingstone blanch. i won’t even get into the monstrosity that is charles de gaulle.

honestly, i have no idea why hartsfield gets the horrible rap it does. maybe it’s because it’s the only major gateway that many people use. honestly of that list i elaborated on earlier, the only one i would choose over atlanta is amsterdam.

am i wrong about this?

10 Comments so far

  1. denkon on June 16th, 2009 @ 2:56 pm

    You are so right about the ease of Atlanta airport compared to other international or major hub airports. My worse experience was at Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris. To change planes I had to walk through long corridors around construction, up and down escalators, use elevators, take a bus to another terminal and repeat. I swear, if the airport could have worked in a ferry and helicopter into the transit, it would have. I felt like I traveled from one side of Europe to the other switching planes in Paris.

  2. flannelenigma on June 16th, 2009 @ 3:10 pm

    I often get people rolling their eyes at me when I praise Hartsfield. And I praise it for the very reasons you detail. Compare it to DFW sometime. I once had to walk 95% of the way completely around the horseshoes there (ending up within a couple of hundred feet from where I started, but I couldn’t take the short route). Atlanta is simplicity at its finest. I suppose most people criticize it based on how busy it is and upon some old jokes ("You have to fly through Atlanta to get to Hell").

  3. james hervey (jeherv) on June 16th, 2009 @ 3:16 pm

    hahahaha. you guys are so right. the thing i remember about paris was the time i was literally one terminal away from where i needed to change to (2e to 2f.) on the map it should have been a very short walk, but thanks to the miracle that is cdg, i had to walk down a narrow hallway, down a back staircase and take a bus ride that was long enough to get me to tours and back.

    as for dfw – sheesh. god forbid you have to ride the "train" there – a monstrosity that is no bigger than one of the teacups in the mad hatter ride at disney world and seems to operate on a time schedule based of of tidal glacier movements.

    god bless atl.

  4. georgepburdell on June 16th, 2009 @ 4:22 pm

    I somehow ended up on the tarmac by baggage handlers @ CDG one time (pre 9/11). I was possibly drunk and certainly sleep deprived, but seriously that is one confusing place. An MC Escher painting is easier to navigate than CDG.

  5. jamsmooth on June 17th, 2009 @ 9:28 am

    I’m certainly nowhere near the world traveler of James H. I will say that Seoul’s airport is fairly easy to get around. It’s not too big. However we did walk a long way to get to our gates. Seoul’s airport is fairly new so architecturally it’s interesting to look at, not to mention see all the folks walking around with operating masks on.

    I have been to Schipol as well and it is a good airport, easy to navigate and not much walking.

  6. abby on June 17th, 2009 @ 1:26 pm

    I am fully with you, James. I love Hartsfield. Its layout is as simple and logical as it could possibly be. It’s got to – more people go through there than any other single airport in the world, and that’s been our ranking for 3 years running.

    Plus it’s (a) a major factor in Atlanta and GA’s growth and economic success and (b) a great place for people watching.

  7. jkowall on June 18th, 2009 @ 12:15 pm

    International arrivals at ATL are the worst, with the double beg drop action. Its the worst airport in the US for that. For connections maybe people are overwhelmed at the size of the amount of foot traffic. Just a guess.

  8. james hervey (jeherv) on June 18th, 2009 @ 2:00 pm

    yah, dude. i will agree with that. the international bag recheck for non-connections is absurd, but it is no worse that the closet that they try to do rechecks in at o’hare. i also hate the security gate after customs, but you have to do this in o’hare and lax too.

  9. BOHO Moe (mmoebes) on June 27th, 2009 @ 3:57 pm

    My only complaint is that it takes noticeably longer to get your checked bags at Atlanta, compared to other airports I’ve visited.

  10. james hervey (jeherv) on June 28th, 2009 @ 11:12 am

    depends on the airports you are talking about. i would rate atlanta below average but not noticeably so. las vegas is probably the worst airport in america for this, and surpsingly since it’s so small, dca is right up there with it….

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