a sign on the ceiling of a building
Photograph ©2024 by Brian Cohen.

The Inanity of Arriving at Concourse F in Atlanta

Whoever designed this setup should be shot — at least with a camera...

Despite traveling all around the world over the years, I never experienced the inanity of arriving at Concourse F in Atlanta until my first time doing so in 2017 after returning from Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Poland, and the Netherlands — and I was reminded of it yet again earlier this year.

The Inanity of Arriving at Concourse F in Atlanta

Concourse F opened on Wednesday, May 16, 2012 with much fanfare at the international airport which serves the greater Atlanta metropolitan area. I actually visited that concourse during its construction on Monday, November 14, 2011 for a special tour of its initial twelve gates, a new security checkpoint, baggage claim, and the new area for United States Customs and Border Protection to process visitors upon arrival. I took greater than 100 photographs of the $1.4 billion international terminal that day…

…but the excitement quickly wore off when I arrived at Concourse F on that day on Tuesday, April 25, 2017. At that time, three long lines filled with people were available at the customs area, as the:

  • First line was for passport machines
  • Second line was to check passports
  • Third line was to leave a printout and then leave the airport
a sign in a building
Photograph ©2024 by Brian Cohen.

Afterwards was the choice to either transfer to another flight or terminate the trip with Atlanta as the final destination. As I am based in Atlanta, I had no other choice but to choose the latter.

The problem — which exists to this day — is that choosing Atlanta as the final destination takes people outside of the secure area of the airport to the landside part of Concourse F that is not accessible by the The Plane Train automated people mover that travels between concourses.

a blue bus parked at a bus stop
Photograph ©2018 by Brian Cohen.

Fewer services — such as shuttles for parking and lodging — are available at Concourse F than at the main domestic terminal of the airport. The only way to get back to the main area of the airport is by taking a light blue ATL International Shuttle Connector bus, for which one sometimes must wait. Using the service is free of charge.

I stood in the long line to wait for the shuttle bus to get to the main domestic terminal, as I had just missed the first one. The lines were long for what were essentially mini buses, which still currently operate even though larger buses are now available to use.

a blue seats on a bus
Photograph ©2018 by Brian Cohen.

When I finally boarded the shuttle bus for the first time in 2017, it was crowded — to the point of standing room only.

a blue and yellow seats on a bus
Photograph ©2018 by Brian Cohen.

The seats were not very comfortable — but they sufficed. Limited room was available for luggage and baggage.

The “fun” part was yet to come: the route of the ATL International Shuttle Connector bus takes at least 15 minutes and travels greater than six miles around the entire north side of the airport — including past the world headquarters of Delta Air Lines and the Delta Flight Museum. The ride of the shuttle bus itself was rough and noisy.

a map of a city
Imagery ©2024 Airbus, Maxar Technologies, Map data ©2024. Source: Google Maps.

The Plane Train automated people mover — as indicated in the map above by the blue train icons between the start and the end of the route — would have been faster and significantly more convenient. I said to the driver of the shuttle bus on that first ride back in 2017 that “This is the worst setup I have ever seen.”

His response was simply: “Oh, well.”

a blue bus parked at a bus stop
Photograph ©2018 by Brian Cohen.

I finally arrived at the domestic terminal almost two hours after leaving the airplane that day. What a mess was that system, as each and every part of using it took a very long time. I thought that adding a new concourse for international flights was supposed to improve the process. Instead, I felt like I was catapulted back to 1985 in terms of progress.

I thought that experience was bad…

a long hallway with a walkway and a large wall
Photograph ©2024 by Brian Cohen.

…but on my most recent trip from which I returned from Tulum in Mexico, the experience was even worse: the airplane landed and parked at a gate at Concourse E instead of Concourse F, which are spaced rather far apart. The problem is that all passengers were forced to walk more than a mile all the way to Concourse F and then first go through the aforementioned process. Some moving walkways helped — but not all that much.

This process took even longer than the initial process in 2017. Even worse is that the ATL International Shuttle Connector bus does not even operate 24 hours per day, as the service ends at 1:00 in the morning every day. If an airplane arrives afterwards, passengers who need this free service are likely out of luck.

The good news is that help seems to be on its way, as a new service called ConnectATL seems to be in the works that will supposedly operate between terminals 24 hours per day and seven days per week.

Final Boarding Call

Departing from Concourse F in Atlanta is not a problem, as anyone can take the train from the main domestic terminal once he or she successfully passes through the security checkpoint…

…but as a result of the inane design of the process of arriving at Concourse F, I usually try to return to the United States through New York, Los Angeles, or other cities in the United States with a gateway international airport to avoid this mess that some clueless idiots designed with regard to international passengers arriving at Concourse F.

If you complain about changing airplanes in Atlanta, just be thankful that Atlanta is not your final destination and you must go through Concourse F…

All photographs ©2018 and ©2024 by Brian Cohen.

  1. I was in leadership at an ATL-hubbed (at the time) airline when the terminal was built. My signature is on the “topping out” I-beam from 2009. I remember the first time taking a tour after it was substantially enclosed (in my steel toes and hard hat) and we had to walk from E through the tunnel they had put under taxiway Dixie (as it was at the time, I guess now calling D as Dixie is a no-no). We were told that was the path for all local arrivals coming into E. Seemed like a horrible idea at the time. I was at the time on the airport advisory board for MARTA as a stakeholder… absolute mess for transit connections. MARTA wanted initially to run a city bus from there to Lakewood/Ft McPherson station which would have been basically a straight shot up 75 to Langford Parkway and across. And the distance was within a half mile of the distance around the airport perimeter to the airport MARTA station. But, the airport and City of Atlanta didn’t want that…… Wouldn’t want to mistake either for doing things convenient to public transit. We more wanted it for employee benefit as it could cut 20-25 minutes off an employee’s commute.

    1. I saw on the map in the article that a taxiway was between Concourse E and Concourse F, NedsKid. That explains the distance between the concourses…

      …and the name Dixie is likely a “no-no” for a number of reasons.

      Thank you for providing that information. Why have anything convenient for passengers who are local to the greater Atlanta metropolitan area?!?

      1. Yes, the taxiway “D” (airport taxiways are labeled with letters, sometimes letter then number) was closed for a year or two in order to build the tunnel underneath and the new train system maintenance area. That is the only cross-airfield taxiway that doesn’t go down an alleyway between concourses so is heavily used, especially in winter time as deicing is done on what they call “Ramp 6″ which is the area east/”behind” concourse E both North and South.

        It always was “Dixie” to avoid confusion as the normal phonetic would be “Delta.” It even used to be on the aeronautical charts for ATL that Dixie was used for D.

        I have somewhere complete interior space diagrams for the entirety of ATL airport… every single gate, room, office, closet on every level. It’s fascinating what all they have hidden particularly underground in that area.

        I used to ride Marta from Inman Park almost every day… even though I had a reserved parking place across the street from the AA baggage claim. Besides getting “street cred” with my employees, it was just much more pleasant than driving and even got on a first name basis with the usual train operator on the first train of the day. It was always so frustrating to see the almost purposeful limiting of Marta. Both Delta and AirTran used to offer an unlimited monthly ride pass for free to employees who didn’t take a parking permit (Southwest does not any longer as their union contract specifies that employees have to pay for parking at work). When I was in Leadership Atlanta had a nice chat with Mayor Reed about the general lack of connectivity and limited service hours of transit. Many handcuffs placed by the state.

        1. If it does not get you into trouble, NedsKid, I would be interested in writing an article with the complete interior space diagrams for the entirety of ATL airport.

          I intend to also post an article with the photographs of Concourse F under construction and compare them to photographs of some of the concourse today…

    1. Well, reading more than just a part of the article showed me that some “shit” (even … shittier than the seven years old shit) happened 0 years ago. The return from the trip to Tulum, Mexico, was _recently_.

  2. Long time Atlanta resident and global traveller. I am embarrassed every time I arrive in E or F and thankful I never have to use the bus to domestic. It is the worst arrival setup in the world that I have seen. And since the airport is more concerned with creative ways to waste PFC revenue than improving passenger experience, this will never change. Airport management doesn’t care as manual work arounds create low wage jobs and long term efficency requires capital expenses. I arrived July 5, 2024 from Europe. That day, the airport was hammered by summer storms that resulted in 8 international flights being diverted to refuel. When the airport reopened,all 8 were cleared to arrive within the same 15 min time frame. The line for immigration took 2.5 hours. You couldn’t even get to the empty Global Entry area due to the crowds backed up into the tunnels under F concourse. No restrooms. No water. No announcements. Nothing. Shameful disrespect of arriving passengers but typical of Atlanta airport ops and leadership. You can’t change the weather. You have a choice when things get disrupted. The airport continued BAU. Makes me wonder if anyone in airport ops or exex leadership has ever traveled. No clue about passenger experience.

    1. I feel for you… I left ATL for CLT right before the weather that day. CLT got its first SAS ever and I believe KLM also dropped in. CLT is I hesitate to say an even bigger mess than ATL because American has it severely overscheduled (they actually have more flights scheduled than gates some times of the day, so they need a few cancelations to make the plan work) and AA does not run an operation near as well as DL.

    2. I too have witnessed passengers with Global Entry not being able to get to the designated Global Entry area and speed through the immigration and customs process due to the substantially long lines which you mentioned, D Anbari.

      Corruption has unfortunately allegedly always been a priority at that airport…

      …and improving the airport experience for passengers really would not take so much time, effort, and money — but they had a chance to do just that with the construction of a brand new concourse and failed miserably…

  3. Hi – I am long time Atlanta based international traveler as well. While I agree the setup isn’t ideal, your position is predicated on using the domestic terminal, but why? If you are Atlanta based and traveling International you should check in at F, that check in experience and short walk to F Gates or the one stop to E Gates on the train is so much more pleasant than the domestic terminal check in and long ride out to E or F on the Plane Train. Keep in mind, you “can” check in for international flights at the domestic terminal for Delta and some Delta partners, so unless you are one one of these airlines you have to go to F to check in. (Also you can use domestic for international if your non Delta (and partners) have mobile check in and you are not checking bags – and in that case you can use domestic too).

    I recently arrived from the Dominican Republic to E – and had that silly walk that I agree is a miss, but with Global Entry I went from plane to the front door of my house in 1h 5minutes. And I live east of downtown Atlanta. This included picking up my checked luggage. You are correct, the whole international arrival process for Atlanta local passengers is not ideal, but if you know how to work it, it’s a non event. (I know there are other use cases, like needing to rent a car or hopping MARTA which I’ve done via that shuttle after arriving international, but checking in at F if you are an Atlanta based flier reduces your rationale for this article).

    1. I never said that I had a problem with checking in for a flight which departs from Concourse F, Scott. In fact, I wrote in the article that “Departing from Concourse F in Atlanta is not a problem, as anyone can take the train from the main domestic terminal once he or she successfully passes through the security checkpoint.” This is true with any of the concourses at the airport.

      The issue I have is with arriving at Concourse F, for the reasons that were mentioned in the article.

  4. This article while comprehensive about the author’s experiences doesn’t reveal there is ample parking near the International F terminal, including an economy ‘park and ride’ lot a 3 minute shuttle ride from the terminal with 24 hour service.

    Taxi and private app ride services are also available from the terminal.

    While MARTA might not be so convenient, it’s not an island for most local arrivals.

    1. You are correct about the options near and at Concourse F at the international terminal, Greg — but those options are not always the best value; and they are limited when compared to what is available at or near the main domestic terminal.

      I am sure that someone will give at least one example; but I cannot think of a single airport where a terminal has separate facilities and services than the rest of the airport, which is inconvenient at best. Perhaps the setup at the Marine Air Terminal at LaGuardia Airport in New York is the most similar? As an example, why cannot someone park at the car park facility of his or her choice and be able to freely and easily use any concourse at the airport?

      Another problem is that domestic flights sometimes use Concourse F; and international flights sometimes use Concourse E. While knowing which concourse to use is fairly predictable, it is not 100 percent reliable; so choosing a facility or service at or near Concourse F is not completely foolproof…

      1. Not the best value? Look, if you want to complain about something then be honest and say “I could have alleviated a lot of these time issues by paying to park at/near Terminal F. Instead, I chose cheaper parking options and instead had to travel further and longer to get to my vehicle.”

        Design may well be less than ideal, but take a little responsibility for the impact of your own “value” decisions. What you are communicating is that you value your money more than your time. So you got exactly the experience you bargained for.

        I’ve personally never had issues with the immigration and customs experience in Atlanta. After that, I am 95% of the time connecting, thank goodness.

      2. Domestic flights arriving into E or F allow you to use the plane train so this is a non-issue for your situation.

  5. What do you suggest? A separate plane train for the 12 passengers that can’t figure out to park at F (or get an Uber/Lyft from there) if you’re coming back into ATL on an international flight?

    ATL is also my home airport and I’ve started having Uber/Lyft drop me at the international terminal for domestic morning flights as security is so light (and if flying DL I can use Digital ID). It’s nice to have an option to avoid the congested South Terminal drop-off and security.

    1. I think a solution would be to allow an arriving passenger to be able to clear security at ATL F. no new infrastructure needed.

      Few would choose to reclear security to get all the way to the other side. But it would in theory resolve the issue he describes.

      Or he can just book a throwaway leg for his return flights to ATL as many flyertalkers would – using his connecting pass to get into the terminal

      1. After passengers clear customs, Greg, they arrive at a point where connecting passengers can use the Plane Train to get to the next flight. Must they clear security again to continue on their journey?

        If connecting passengers do not need to clear security, then why can’t passengers whose final destination is Atlanta also use the Plane Train as well? Retrieval of checked baggage may be a reason; but I never check my bags.

        I know of no other airport — other than my earlier possible example of the Marine Air Terminal at LaGuardia Airport, which is primarily a domestic airport — which has a similarly inane system…

        1. Wait so connecting passengers don’t have to clear security again after customs?

          Then what’s stopping you from just going that way?

          1. I cannot say definitively whether connecting passengers are not required to clear security again after customs, Greg, as I have never connected through Atlanta once the international terminal and Concourse F officially opened to the public.

            As for what is stopping me from just going that way, the more accurate question is who: a person is always at the exit of the customs area strictly directing traffic and preventing anyone whose final destination is Atlanta from going the way of connecting passengers — and preventing anyone who has a connecting flight from going the way of passengers whose final destination is Atlanta…

          2. Yes, in every international airport I’ve traversed to a connecting flight, I have had to clear security AFTER clearing immigration and customs.

    2. I suggest a way to allow arriving passengers whose final destination is Atlanta to be able to use the Plane Train to either access other parts of the airport or leave the secure at the main domestic terminal, Paul.

      You do point out a benefit to using the International Terminal for going through the security checkpoint faster after checking in for a flight, though…

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!