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Interstate 85, Atlanta, Georgia 30341
+1 404 530 6600
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Hell on Earth
Northampton, United Kingdom
April 17, 2011
Best of IgoUgo
~Georgia on my Mind~Atlanta airport is unquestionably one of the most frustrating and badly designed airports I’ve ever had the misfortune to travel through and I travel through a lot of airports. I know all the major European hub airports well – ...
~Georgia on my Mind~
Atlanta airport is unquestionably one of the most frustrating and badly designed airports I’ve ever had the misfortune to travel through and I travel through a lot of airports. I know all the major European hub airports well – Heathrow, Paris, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Brussels and Zurich are all places I’ve frequently used. None of my most hated European airports including Frankfurt and Brussels comes close to being as bad as Atlanta. It’s confusing, illogical, horribly badly laid-out and puts arriving passengers through the kind of turmoil which ought to be covered by the Geneva convention regulations on physical and mental torture. God help you if you don’t speak English or don’t travel very often.
Welcome to Atlanta
My colleague and I arrived on a Delta flight from Manchester – an old, poorly equipped workhorse of a plane with the cheeriest flight attendants in North America. After nearly 9 hours in the air we landed about half an hour early so things were looking good. Getting through immigration was not too bad – although we did wonder why quite so many uniformed staff seemed to be standing around doing absolutely nothing at all. We were also baffled by the absence of any language skills amongst the staff with frequent calls over the tannoy requesting "French translator to book 34" or "German translator to 47". If you don’t speak Spanish or English the staff can’t deal with you – I hate to think what happens if you turn up speaking Korean or Arabic. On the plus side though the immigration staff were not unfriendly. Compared to the mirror sunglassed, serious faced ‘homeland security’ folks at the New York airports, my immigration officer was a delight.
"What was the purpose of my visit", she asked. "Business meetings", I replied. "JUST business meetings?" she asked, raising an eyebrow in best Roger Moore fashion and perhaps expecting me to tell her I was plotting the overthrow of American civilisation. I told her that I might try a bit of shopping in my best attempt to help the US economy out of a tight spot. She smiled and said it sounded like a good idea. I felt happy to have landed and passed what’s normally the tough spot in a US airport. Sadly I had no idea what was to come.
~Jumping through hoops - and running up and down escalators~
I met my colleague and we headed for baggage collection. The bags came through quite quickly. A bouncy little beagle gave our bags a good sniff, wagged happily and all seemed to be going well until we were told to give the bags back again. Duh? What was all that about? A man with a scanner gun beeped our luggage tags and we handed over the bags and proceeded to get searched and to have our hand luggage screened and all water or other liquids removed. Quite why or how they felt the need to screen incoming baggage was beyond us – maybe they figured we’d built a bomb ON the plane and then had second thoughts about letting it off.
With our bags taken from us we started to head for the second baggage claim. There was a shuttle train but we thought we’d been sitting down long enough and a good walk would do us good. Little did we realise that we were at the most distant point from the terminal and only after we’d walked a long way, gone up an escalator, walked another long way and then gone back down another escalator, did we realise that it was clearly a really long way. We gave up and got the train. The colleagues who arrived later that evening found the train out of action and had to complete half a marathon walk just to get out.
Security? Theirs but not ours
By the time we reached the baggage reclaim, we were tired, grumpy and utterly fed up. We and our bags had now travelled almost as far on the ground as we’d done in the air. And to add insult to injury, when you finally reach the reclaim belts, after multiple rounds of security measures, your bags are sitting on a carousel where they could be picked up and stolen by any passer-by without any security in place.
One bunch of colleagues had arrived at a similar time to us so we were planning to meet them, and another plane had arrived 20 minutes later with two more colleagues. Two hours after we’d landed, over one hour after we’d got our bags back, there was still no sign of the last group. We eventually gave up, split the group and two of us headed to the car rental station – another long and confusing train transfer away.
~Going in the other direction~
On our way home we dropped our luggage at the bag-drop and started the long long journey to the departure gates. We had ‘fast track’ boarding passes, thanks to my colleagues gold card but the queue for security was moving slower than a snail with a broken foot. We then found the train and headed all the way out to the most distant point at the E terminal.
E terminal has facilities that would be put to shame by a tiny local airport in the UK. Since it’s the USA there are multiple eating options with a colossal food court on offer but the shopping is pitiful. The Duty Free store had the slowest and grumpiest service of any I’ve ever visited and I came to within a hair’s breadth of asking the server if she knew the words please and thank you before deciding that it just wasn’t worth making a fuss.
~Should you use Atlanta?~
Atlanta is Delta’s so-called hub airport. This means that a lot of people use it to transit through to other places. For them it’s probably quite convenient to bounce around between the different terminals but if you are actually starting or ending your journey in Atlanta you can feel that your needs are their very lowest priority. I’ve used several other US hubs including Miami and Chicago but none comes close to being as thoroughly horrible as Atlanta. Since Delta is also a pretty rubbish airline, I’d suggest to not use it unless you HAVE to go to Atlanta. There must be better ways to travel than through Atlanta airport.
Georgia on my mind