Why Atlanta?

Why Is Atlanta the Busiest Airport on Earth?


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Introducing ATL

100 million travelers and 600 million tons of cargo pass through the runways of Atlanta’s Hartsfield - Jackson International Airport, making it the world’s busiest airport. On average, there are 2,500 aircraft operations at the airport a day - that’s almost 110 an hour. Almost half of these are from Delta Air Lines, which has its base at ATL. So why does this massive airport exist in a city with a population comparable of less than a half million people?


Atlanta

To understand ATL, you need to understand the city. Atlanta, the capital of the US state of Georgia, is a major hub for economic activity in the American Southeast, and is home to about 450,000. The city itself is relatively normal. It’s not typically making headlines, but it’s a household name pretty much globally. People know what you’re talking about when you say Atlanta, but they might not know a whole lot about it, like one might about New York or London. Most notably, Atlanta is home to Coca Cola, whose global headquarters in the city employs about 10,000.

They’re home to 1 other Fortune 500 company, which gives you a clue into the reasons behind ATL’s business - Delta Air Lines.


Delta
Delta Air Lines, most often refereed to as just “Delta,” is one of the Big 3 airlines in the US (the other two being American and United). Founded in 1925, the airline is the second largest in the world in terms of fleet size and passengers carried. The airline has 9 hubs, the largest of which is Atlanta, where they’re based and have their biggest maintenance base. Delta has over 1000 flights from ATL a day, when including their regional partners.
Atlanta Airport

Atlanta got its first airport, Candler Field, on April 16th, 1925, when a 5 year lease on a few acres of land was signed by the city’s mayor, Walter Sims. The airport was very small and utilitarian. The first commercial service was on September 16th of the following year, with Florida Airways down to Jacksonville.

By the 1930s, Atlanta was the country’s 4th busiest airport, after New York’s Idlewind Field, Chicago/Midway, and Minneapolis’s Holman Field. They had service up and down the East coast, and, later into the decade, farther north and west.

The airport was quickly gaining more airlines and more service. They didn’t get their first international flights until 1971, when Eastern Airlines launched service to Cancun and Montego Bay.

Today, more than a quarter million people fly through Atlanta every day, coming from as far as South Africa and as near as Columbus, Georgia, a mere 20 minute hop from ATL.


Geography In Their Favor

Atlanta is perfectly situated in the American Southeast. New York is a mere two hours from ATL, as are other major American hubs, like Dallas, Houston, Chicago, and Minneapolis, a fellow Delta base. The city is also just a few hours from much of the Caribbean and Central America, making it ideal for connecting passengers to such destinations.

Within the Continental US, you’re never really that far from Atlanta. The longest flight from ATL within the Lower 48 is to Seattle, which takes just under 5 hours to reach. They do have some lengthier domestic services, such as their daily Honolulu flight, which takes around 8 hours to complete on the Westbound leg.

Their location protects them (for the most part) from the severe weather conditions that much of the rest of the country faces. They don’t get winter weather events, which cuts out the logistical nightmare of de icing, and while thunderstorms do roll through on occasion, and can bring high winds and even tornadoes, these storms are often quick squalls which move along relatively fast, minimizing disruption.


Connections, Connections, Connections
The truth is, most passengers who pass through the runways of Atlanta aren’t staying very long. Depending on where you look, the metrics vary, but about 65-80% of travelers are connecting. Because of its prime geographical spot, it’s well positioned to be a connecting city for people traveling throughout the Southeast and the Latin America region. We see a similar pattern in New York, where the majority of the people passing through JFK are just stopping by on their way up and down the East Coast, or jumping across the pond into Europe or even Asia.

Atlanta’s airport design was created with efficiency. The Plane Train, as it is know, connects the 200+ gates with ease, making it much quicker for passengers to get to their connecting flight. ATL sports an astonishing 5 runways, which controllers configure to optimize operations with as little delay as possible.



A UPS MD-11F departs Atlanta at sunset

Sources

https://www.atl.com/about-atl/history-of-atl/

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How many W posts can you possibly make 😍

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Another great post Sammy! Your documentaries are the best! I have to say I have seen that video so many times😂

@Topgottem Summon

But nice work! always wondered the same thing

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I watched that documentary for the first time during the initial lockdown, I think. I watched it again yesterday while researching this topic. Very interesting one. Another great aviation docuseries (on Disney+ and YouTube TV, I think) is called City in the Sky.

Thank you!

It’s a really curious thing. Atlanta is a rather unassuming city, and most people who didn’t know would probably think the world’s busiest airport would be something like JFK or LHR.

the whole metro area is about 6 million people though, which definitely contributes to the large airport

Just loved being at ATL! Impressive amount of traffic

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hehehehe MD-11 good

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Actually, the Atlanta Airport has some of possibly the worse weather conditions, especially during the summer time. Down in the SE region of the USA the summer storms are very, very bad. It can often shut down the airport for a few hours. Only during winter it isn’t as bad. Here is an example of one from the other day. They even have to deal with some hurricanes that usually come from Florida. Overall, a very nice topic you have!

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From my research, it seems like while the weather in the Southeast can be bad, it’s not bad all that often. According to the National Weather Service, Atlanta gets 55 “wet days” (any type of precipitation) a year. For comparison, Minneapolis gets 122 a year. Most of Atlanta’s “wet days” are milder rain that doesn’t really impact flight ops too much. Severe thunderstorm warnings were issued for Atlanta 22 times in 2022 (last year we have data on), which is “above average.”

This means about 6% of days had severe weather. That’s pretty good in terms of flight ops. When those storms do hit, they can be bad, as I mentioned. ATL has even been hit with tornadoes before. But, weather events in the South tend to (there are of course exceptions, such as hurricanes) be intense, faster squalls which are gone quickly.

Back to our Minneapolis comparison, Midwest storms tend to last a little longer, sometimes dragging on for 12+ hours on a bad day. This has significant impacts on flight operations, more so than quick supercells.

Most of the time, the issue isn’t the weather for the safe operation of the aircraft, it’s about ground crew safety. The mantra “when thunder roars, go indoors,” is followed by the FAA, so ground crew members can’t be doing essential tasks like refueling and catering during a weather event.

I’d say, overall, Atlanta is in a better spot weather wise than most of the United States, especially due to the fact that they don’t truly get winter weather.

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Damn Sammy! What another FANTASTIC topic, I don’t know how your thumbs don’t hurt. lol
This was very useful and cool to read, my cousin a fellow delta FA passes through there at least 4 times a day when working, it’s always cool non-reving the other her through such a busy and amazing place

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Lovely post! I have never known that because to me Atlanta seems so random to me. Like why is delta based there? Well now I have my answer. Although JFK is a better airport than ATL as it’s my home airport.

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My parents thought that until summer of 2023 when we were gonna visit family in the USA and had to connect via ATL. I told them that we were going through the busiest airport in the world. I’m glad u made this topic as I’ve always wondered why this was the case. I loved looking out of the window and seeing the just airside full of planes. Also they have a nice Porsche 911 there (idk if it’s gone it was there when I was passing through).

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This is fascinating. I’m still trying to wrap my head around Atlanta. I need to visit maybe.

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Now, I’ve always had that question in my head. Great post!

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same, thanks for answering my question!

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People give ATL to much hate but its so easy to navigate. Great post

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When I went through ATL I thought it’ll be hell but it’s so easy to navigate

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Why Atlanta?! Because it’s the home of the Braves!
And because I lived there:)