The Basics

Why I Really Didn’t Like the Security Process at Atlanta’s International Terminal

TSA precheck
Written by Charlie

There is actually one word to describe why I didn’t like the security at Atlanta’s international terminal. Actually, it is a three letter acronym – have any guesses? 🙂

It has been many years since I flew out of Atlanta’s airport to an international destination. In fact, it was back when Delta flew to Tel Aviv from Atlanta that I last flew from there. Even then, I had only been connecting so would not have had reason to enter the “new” international terminal (if it had been there). However, last week I did use the international terminal at ATL as my origination – and I really did not like how they managed the security lines!

The Security Process at the Atlanta International Terminal

I will start this mini “rant” with this – I have TSA PreCheck and have elite status with various airlines. Because of these two things, it is not often that I have to wait in the general security line at airports. In fact, the security lines is one of the reasons I always want to keep my elite status! 🙂

Last week, I was flying out of Atlanta with Turkish Airlines (on their new 787 Dreamliner!). After checking in my bags, I mentioned to the agent that I was glad the my TSA PreCheck number had been applied (since I have had problems with it on Turkish in the past).

Uh-Oh

She said it didn’t matter – because TSA closes the PreCheck line at 5:30PM! My flight (and many other international flights) was leaving after 10PM so that meant that no one boarding those flights would have access to PreCheck.

Well, I told the agent, at least I am flying business class so I can use the priority lane! Disappointment number 2 – there is no priority lane in this terminal at security for elite members or business/first class passengers!

While I have had issues with Turkish Airlines and TSA PreCheck in the past (my issue is not with Turkish but with TSA as they either don’t have PreCheck at those terminals in several airports or they close it before Turkish flights leave), I actually do love PreCheck for one big reason (aside from the quicker lines). It means I do not have to unpack my carryon which often has many pieces of electronics in it (camera(s), laptop, tablet, cables, chargers, earbuds, etc). However, with regular lines, you do need to take those things out.

But, at least with priority lines, I would still not have to wait in a line that has 500 people in it! Yet, TSA had decided to not offer a priority line at the international terminal in Atlanta.

favorite customer

Courtesy of Shutterstock

It Gets Worse!

Fortunately, the line didn’t take nearly as long as I had thought it would (partially helped by quickly jumping in lanes as they would open up) – in spite of their being a single TSA official checking IDs.

The real kicker came when putting our bags on the belt and the announcement came out – “all electronics larger than a cell phone have to go in a bin, do not stack anything on any electronics. Also, remove all food from your bag – snacks, gum, etc.

Wait, WHAT?! Yeah, I had forgotten that some TSA agents do have this happen now but I have not gone through such a line in almost 2 years so had forgotten. Now, I am scrambling through my bag trying to find every little thing that I had put in their for my family, etc.

Sure enough, I had forgotten some little thing and my bag got pulled aside for another security check. Finally, they okayed it all and I moved on to the lounge (another slight peeve – Turkish Airlines uses a The Club lounge in this terminal, which was, of course, packed full since every other airline uses it as well and Priority Pass members!).

Why This Bothered Me

I am certainly not some kind of DYKWIA (do-you-know-who-i-am) traveler, even if this post sounds like it! 🙂 My problem is that I had no way of knowing advance that this terminal operates like this. If I had been traveling like I normally do, I would have arrived very close to boarding time for my flight. I often travel like that since I know I either have TSA PreCheck or the priority lane and it goes pretty fast.

Atlanta not even offering anything besides a standard security line is a big disappointment for an international terminal. TSA’s decision to close down their Precheck line hours before many flights are departing is another disappointment.

And to make it a trifecta of disappointment, it was disappointing that there were so many TSA agents around that were not actually working the lines that could have been working other lines – and they weren’t.

The trusted traveler program is a membership program – as in I pay (actually, one of my many credit card companies pay) for this different security lane. I know it is possible for a line to close at times but I get frustrated when TSA decides to close those lines either just “because” or for some other reason that really doesn’t make sense. In the end, it just showed me that I really need to plan for more time if I ever fly out of Atlanta’s international terminal again – that is, if.

Featured image By Arina P Habich, Courtesy of Shutterstock

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About the author

Charlie

Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.

21 Comments

  • “My problem is that I had no way of knowing advance that this terminal operates like this.”

    If only TSA had a website that shows their checkpoint schedule… Oh wait…. https://www.tsa.gov/precheck/schedule

    Or you know you could check the ATL website where it says…
    International Terminal 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

    But you know, that’s just way too hard…

    “I am certainly not some kind of DYKWIA (do-you-know-who-i-am) traveler”… You most certainly are

    • Thanks for looking that stuff up, Jeffrey.But those websites still do not address not having a priority line – something available at some small regional airports.
      My issue still remains – TSA not having PreCheck or priority lines open when so many international flights are departing is just dumb. Especially when there are so many agents not even working lines. Poor management and scheduling – and this is true at many airport terminals that have Turkish flights.

      • I would guess the priority line is something the airlines arrange with TSA so blame the airlines for that one not TSA.

        You also wrote an entire article about this and it cost you less than 10 minutes per your other comments… Re-evaluate your stance that you’re not a DYKWIA traveler…

        • Glad you formed an opinion of how I am as a traveler from one of 5,000 posts. I already said I realize it makes me sound like that but this is a rant about TSA’s procedures and scheduling. When there are hundreds of people in line and this happens every day for these flights, there is no reason that TSA does not schedule their Precheck line to be open.
          My issue is the same with border agents (not just US) and the lack of staffing – they know months in advance how many people may be coming in but they staff their checkpoints with far fewer agents than they should to handle the lines of people, many of whom have connections to make.
          But, hey, maybe we will bump into each other at an airport some day! If we do, I’ll buy you a coffee and maybe I can change your mind about me in real life. 🙂

  • All concourses at ATL are accessible from all terminals, and PreCheck at the main checkpoint is open until 9PM. You could have easily taken a ~10 minute shuttle ride from the International Terminal to the North Terminal if using Pre-Check was that important to you…

  • @JP +1

    Oh, and you can just go through security at the main terminal and take the Plane Trane out to International if unloading all your electronics is just too difficult.

    Agree that the only Priority Pass/contract lounge is sub-par and crowded. It’s not an accident, Delta/Skyteam have a near monopoly.

    • Thanks for your follow up on the other terminals as well. I did know that but not a great option since I had to check bags.
      I love the rest of Atlanta airport – it was just the way that TSA operates this terminal that was disappointing.

  • There is no benefit of going to the International Terminal in Atlanta. Stick with the regular terminal and take the Automated People Mover, it takes 10 minutes tops to get from one end of the airport to the other.

    • Thanks, Anthony. Am I correct, though, that having to check bags would make that more time consuming or no? I love ATL as a whole so if could just avoid that part, I will!

  • I believe that the only way to check bags with Turkish is in the International Terminal, unless you could check them through a domestic partner airline like United. Flying Delta or another SkyTeam airline you can check international baggage in the main terminal.

    • Good points about Delta and Skyteam. I know there was a Delta flight going out the same time as well as a British Airways flight, so I would imagine they would need to check in in the international terminal as well.
      Like I said, it was my first time in this terminal and I didn’t realize what a drive it is in relation to the main terminal – our rental shuttle seemed to be driving for a long time to get there!

  • Charlie, can’t you show that you are Precheck? I’ve seen people in regular lines who tell the TSA agents they are Precheck. They don’t take their shoes off and don’t have to take eletronic equipments out of their bags. I’ve seen this in other airports.

    • Thanks, George – they let us go through the metal detector instead of the scope but we still had to take things off and take everything out of our bags. In other airports, they will often give you a card that lets you leave a jacket on, belt on, and shoes on while going through the metal detector. But, even there, you still need to take electronics out of their bags.

  • It’s not you. ATL is a mess most of the time. I’m TSA Pre and CLEAR and still find it’s like a zoo even with all the lines open. I will also rant that the domestic Delta ticket counters are a total mess with kiosks in weird places and lines all strangely arranged.

  • Every complaint you’ve listed is common knowledge for travel in Atlanta. This is just a boring whining post about nothing

  • This is DYKWIA

    My issue is the same with border agents (not just US) and the lack of staffing – they know months in advance how many people may be coming in but they staff their checkpoints with far fewer agents than they should to handle the lines of people, many of whom have connections to make.

    When will people ever learn that their job is not to get you through in 5 mins. They have no interest in saving you time or make sure you make your connection. They have enough staff to make sure they don’t have to work overtime and nothing gets passed unnoticed.

    Yes we all hate TSA, often time they are inefficient too. But how much can you expect from a low paying security enforcement job.
    I am surprised that I have got liquids through many times as surprised as TSA wants to throw away an unopened Nutella jar.

    • No, it’s inefficient. Has nothing to do with who I am. TSA sells the Precheck program as a way to get through security faster. When they either don’t offer it at terminals with airlines that have been cleared for Precheck or they close it before several included airlines’ flights depart, it is completely reasonable to be frustrated with a program.
      As for border clearance, it is a problem in many places. The systems allow you to book certain flights of a particular connection time or longer. Yet, border clearance time can get backed up so much that people miss those flights and why? Because they did not schedule more than 2 agents for 7 flights incoming – something that was known to be coming long before it ever came. It wasn’t a surprise.

  • To be fair to Charlie, ATL is the most overrated airport in the USA! I hate flying through there, everything is a pain in the a**. The TSA is insufferable to deal with at that airport and even PreCheck lines are long (not to mention the inter-terminal shuttles which can get like a Tokyo subway). And what’s up with any major airport deciding to shut down PreCheck at 5:30 pm when there’s an evening push? This is Atlanta, not Colorado Springs. But actually, it is Atlanta which explains everything.

  • ATL is my home airport. I’m not sure why everyone is giving you such a hard time on this blog post. I find the lack of services that you mentioned plus the lack of Clear at the international terminal pretty annoying also. Because of the construction, there’s often a considerable amount of congestion at the domestic terminals and it would be really nice to go in as easily through the international terminal as it is through the domestic side. It’s obviously not the end of the world, but the purpose of travel blogs is often to talk about how things can be improved.

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