By George Hobica of Airfarewatchdog
Nearly 100 million travelers found themselves traveling through Atlanta's airport last year, making it the busiest in the world. No, not the country, or the continent, or the hemisphere – the world. That's no fluke, either; the airport – known formally as Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International and the primary Delta Air Lines hub – has taken top honors for over a decade now. It's big, it can be baffling and we're here to help, with this quick mini-guide.
Atlanta had installed a convenient rail link between the city and its airport years before other American cities even pondered the idea. The regional MARTA train network has a station right at the Domestic Terminal – anyone heading to Downtown, Midtown or Buckhead ought to give it a try. Both the Gold and Red lines serve the station, but hours and frequency and days of service vary. Check out the schedules at www.itsmarta.com.
Located on the western side of the Domestic Terminal, the busy Ground Transportation Center is home to many competing shared-ride shuttle services; the Atlanta Airport Shuttle offers service to Downtown ($16.50), Midtown ($18.50) and Buckhead ($20.50). You can book online (www.taass.net) using PayPal; just be sure to print out your receipt and bring it along.
Passengers pay a flat rate depending on their destination – $30 to Downtown, $40 to Buckhead and $32 to the Midtown area. There is a $2 charge for each additional person in the cab, and an additional flag drop fee of $1.50. If you're headed outside that area, the meter will run – you pay $2.50 for the first 1/8 mile, $0.25 for each additional 1/8 mile and a $1.50 flag drop fee.
The ATL SkyTrain, which debuted in late 2009, takes passengers from a station located next to the western end of the Domestic Terminal over to the also-newish consolidated rental car center in just five minutes; no annoying shuttle buses required. Prices can be extremely reasonable, as airports go. Note that if you're arriving at the International Terminal, you'll need to board a shuttle bus to get to the SkyTrain station.
Plenty of airports aspire to offer full-service dining, but few can pull it off like One Flew South, a restaurant on Concourse E that not only manages to be pretty much full-blown fine dining, it also does it in a very inclusive fashion, offering a little something for everyone, from a very good sushi menu to soups and salads and little plates to guy food like an excellent half-pound Kobe beef burger, or a BLT made with Benton's bacon, a smoky Southern favorite. The restaurant's just a short ride away from the other concourses via Atlanta's Plane Train, the underground people mover that ties the airport together fairly neatly. If you're closer to Concourse B, check out Café Intermezzo, the airport branch of a popular local restaurant modeled on the classic Viennese coffeehouse model, but with a few more bells and whistles. It's quaint, it's relaxed, there are white tablecloths, they have French press coffee and big slices of cheesecake and other things that you may not be accustomed to finding in airports.
Where to go drinking
While the cocktail menu at One Flew South (again, that’s on Concourse E) is all some people need – one of their classic Negroni cocktails is just the thing for a hot southern summer day – others prefer the vibe and the beers on tap at SweetWater Draft House & Grill, with locations on Concourses A and B. This is actually a real, honest-to-goodness local brewery, not some airport gimmick. Stick with the beer, though – food's better elsewhere.
Anyone with a sweet tooth will love you for bringing them an assortment of pralines from Savannah's Candy Kitchen, located on Concourse B. For something less edible, but no less sweet, also on Concourse B you have Panda Veranda, a gift shop featuring all things panda – there's even a live cam trained on the pandas at Zoo Atlanta.
Get away from it all
It's tough to break away from the crowds at any airport, let alone in Atlanta, but the Minute Suites concession on Concourse B offers an easy and affordable out. For $34 an hour, travelers can book one of their five compact but comfortable rooms, which offer daybeds for napping and desks for working, with DIRECTV and a cool sound-masking system that makes you feel like you're nowhere near an airport. Book in advance at www.minutesuites.com.
The long layover
With a MARTA station right at the terminal, anyone who has a little time to kill can bounce right on out of the airport and into the city – again, you're only twenty minutes or so away by train. Hop off at the Arts Center station – here, you're just across the street from the world-class High Museum of Art , the giant white building that’s hard to miss. Inside is a hybrid of a more traditional art museum (think New York's Metropolitan Museum) and something more modern (for instance, New York's MoMA). A short walk from the station and you're at Piedmont Park, Atlanta's giant front lawn and great for a stroll of any length.
Best airport hotel
The airport area is absolutely littered with hotels, but it wasn't until the construction of the SkyTrain that any clear winners emerged. Convenience-wise, it's hard to beat the two located along the SkyTrain, just one stop from the Domestic Terminal. The Atlanta Airport Marriott is better known and sometimes offers very low rates, but the SpringHill Suites Atlanta Airport Gateway is generally your best bet for overall value – they offer free wireless internet, free breakfast, spacious rooms with good soundproofing, great beds and a very soothing, spa-like design.
For the lowest fares to ATL, hand-picked by our Dealhounds, click here.
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