How long of a layover do I need in Atlanta?

Whenever I run out of ideas for new articles here on SANspotter.com, I reach into my mail bag for ideas. This just so happens to be one of those weeks, so I did a little digging. Interestingly enough, the question of “how long of a layover do I need Atlanta” was asked exactly 3 times in the past six weeks. Let’s dig deep into that one, shall we?

What is the minimum layover for domestic flights in Atlanta?

The short answer (based on my own personal experience) is that the minimum connection time for domestic flights in Atlanta is 35 minutes. It doesn’t matter what terminal you arrive at and what terminal you’re departing from. 35 minutes is doable. Anything less than that, not so much.

For the record, I’ve successfully completed a handful of 35-minute connections arriving in the T gates with a departing flight out of concourse F (at the far opposite end of the airport). ATL may be big and scary, but it’s extremely efficient and easy to traverse.

gate A16 Atlanta Airport
Gate A16 here at ATL. What you can’t see is me furiously patting myself on my back for making it here in less than 15 minutes from concourse E. I even had time to purchase an overpriced (and stale) sandwhich!

What is the minimum layover for international flights in Atlanta?

Generally speaking, flying internationally into and out of Atlanta is relatively easy. The very first international flight of my life (to Madrid on a Delta L-1011) was from ATL, and even as a total newbie, it was a piece of cake.

Connecting TO an international flight

You’ll need about 45 minutes for connecting to international flights due to the need of being on board sooner. However, you may get away with less. Not all international flights depart from the international terminal, so there may not be a need for you to make a mad dash across the entirety of the airport in order to catch your flight.

Connecting FROM an international flight

Personally, I wouldn’t be comfortable with anything less than an hour and a half to connect from an international to a domestic flight at ATL. Getting through customs and immigration can be as quick as 10 minutes – or it can take multiple hours. It all depends on what kind of luck is following you around on that particular day.

If you haven’t done so already, do consider using a fast-track method such as Global Entry or Mobile Passport to get you through this process faster. If you’re not sure which one is for you be sure to read my in-depth Mobile Passport vs Global Entry comparison.

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A brief overview of the terminal layout at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL)

Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson International Airport (ATL) is a beast. Not only is the name a mouthfull, it’s also the busiest airport in the world with thousands of daily departures and arrivals from every corner of the globe.

  • The airport consists of two terminals (domestic and international)
  • The domestic terminal has 4 concourses (T, A, B, C, D)
  • The international terminal has 2 concourses (E and F). Note that some domestic Delta flights operate in and out of concourse E.
ATL terminal map
Terminal map of Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. A design so efficient that it inspired the layout of the Denver International Airport (and yes, 1 hour layovers are ok in Denver too).

All terminals and concourses are connected via both an underground walkway and a very efficient train system. The really nice thing about ATL (despite how big and gnarly it is) is the fact that all terminals are accessible without having to re-clear the security checkpoint each time. As a matter of fact, it’s the same reason why 1 hour layovers are possible in Seattle.

The reason why short layovers are ok in Atlanta

First time visitors to the Atlanta airport are often intimidated by it’s size and bustling amounts of activity. I know for a fact that I was. Anyway, having flown in and out of ATL more than 60 times in my life so far, I’ve come to learn that it’s actually one of the easiest airports to get around in. It’s also extremely fast and efficient thanks to its underground tunnel featuring a large walkway and a very punctual transfer train.

ATL underground walkway
The underground walkway between all concourses and terminals at ATL. Prison-like, yes, but it’s also a fast and easy way to get to your next flight.

Another reason why short layovers in Atlanta are possible is because of how big and efficient the hometown airline is. Assuming you’re flying Delta Air Lines, the chances of them leaving you stranded are slim to none.

You become a liability to them the moment you miss your flight, and the faster they can get you to your destination the better. That’s why they will often hold your connecting flight if you’re arriving flight is a few minutes late.

They would rather hold that other flight (and everyone else on board) if it means avoiding having to put you up in a hotel for the night.

This has happened to me several times, and I have to say that it’s a nice secret little perk of flying Delta in and out of ATL. Not only that, it’s really fun to walk onto a fully-loaded airplane knowing that it was held at the gate just for you.

Travel time between all terminals at ATL

As I’ve already mentioned, the process of of moving between terminals and concourses in Atlanta is extremely fast. And easy! You have two options:

  1. The underground walkway
  2. The transfer train in said underground walkway

As long as you keep moving, short butt-clenching layovers are very possible at this airport. Here’s a detailed description of how long it takes to get between all terminals and concourses at ATL. All times are approximate:

From the T gates

  • To anywhere within the T gates: 1-7 minutes
  • To concourse A: 6 minutes to walk, 3 minutes via the train
  • To concourse B: 12 minutes to walk, 6 minutes via the train
  • To concourse C: 18 minutes to walk, 9 minutes via the train
  • To concourse D: 24 minutes to walk, 12 minutes via the train
  • To concourse E: 30 minutes to walk, 15 minutes via the train
  • To concourse F: 36 minutes to walk, 18 minutes via the train

From the A concourse

  • To anywhere within the A concourse: 1-7 minutes
  • To concourse T: 6 minutes to walk, 3 minutes via the train
  • To concourse B: 6 minutes to walk, 3 minutes via the train
  • To concourse C: 12 minutes to walk, 6 minutes via the train
  • To concourse D: 18 minutes to walk, 9 minutes via the train
  • To concourse E: 24 minutes to walk, 12 minutes via the train
  • To concourse F: 30 minutes to walk, 15 minutes via the train

From the B concourse

  • To anywhere within the B concourse: 1-7 minutes
  • To concourse T: 12 minutes to walk, 6 minutes via the train
  • To concourse A: 6 minutes to walk, 3 minutes via the train
  • To concourse C: 6 minutes to walk, 3 minutes via the train
  • To concourse D: 12 minutes to walk, 6 minutes via the train
  • To concourse E: 18 minutes to walk, 9 minutes via the train
  • To concourse F: 24 minutes to walk, 12 minutes via the train

From the C concourse

  • To anywhere within the C concourse: 1-7 minutes
  • To concourse T: 18 minutes to walk, 9 minutes viathe train
  • To concourse A: 12 minutes to walk, 6 minutes via the train
  • To concourse B: 6 minutes to walk, 3 minutes via the train
  • To concourse D: 6 minutes to walk, 3 minutes via the train
  • To concourse E: 12 minutes to walk, 12 minutes via the train
  • To concourse F: 18 minutes to walk, 9 minutes via the train

From the D concourse

  • To anywhere within the D concourse: 1-7 minutes
  • To concourse T: 24 minutes to walk, 12 minutes via the train
  • To concourse A: 18 minutes to walk, 9 minutes via the train
  • To concourse B: 12 minutes to walk, 6 minutes via the train
  • To concourse C: 6 minutes to walk, 3 minutes via the train
  • To concourse E: 6 minutes to walk, 3 minutes via the train
  • To concourse F: 12 minutes to walk, 6 minutes via the train

From the E concourse

  • To anywhere within the E concourse: 2-9 minutes (it’s big)
  • To concourse T: 30 minutes to walk, 15 minutes via the train
  • To concourse A: 24 minutes to walk, 12 minutes via the train
  • To concourse B: 18 minutes to walk, 9 minutes via the train
  • To concourse C: 12 minutes to walk, 6 minutes via the train
  • To concourse D: 6 minutes to walk, 3 minutes via the train
  • To concourse F: 6 minutes to walk, 3 minutes via the train

From the F concourse

  • To anywhere within the F concourse: 1-7 minutes
  • To concourse T: 36 minutes to walk, 18 minutes via the train
  • To concourse A: 30 minutes to walk, 15 minutes via the train
  • To concourse B: 24 minutes to walk, 12 minutes via the train
  • To concourse C: 18 minutes to walk, 9 minutes via the train
  • To concourse D: 12 minutes to walk, 6 minutes via the train
  • To concourse E: 6 minutes to walk, 3 minutes via the train

The bottom line is this: it takes approximately 5 to 10 minutes to walk from one terminal to the next (it all depends on where your individual arriving and departing gates are). Note that the train could take just as long if it’s busy. If it’s not, it’ll definitely save you a couple minutes.

What is the ideal amount of layover time in Atlanta?

Everyone’s individual levels of comfort are different, but I’ll just say this: my ideal layover time in Atlanta is 1 hour and 10 minutes for domestic flights, and 2 and a half hours for international flights. This amount of time allows two things:

  1. First, it allows me to walk at a leisurely pace to my connecting flight. I like walking, and I’ll definitely choose that over taking the train if I have the time. It’s nice to get some exercise between flights!
  2. Second, there will usually be enough time left over to get something to eat. Anyone who watches my videos knows that I like to eat when I travel. Especially if it involves chicken and rice.
Concourse F ATL
Concourse F. The chicken and rice served in the food court upstairs is why I hang out here whenever I have a 2hr + layover in Atlanta. Tell ’em SANspotter sent you (if you want them to look at you funny).

Tips for making really short layovers at ATL

In contrast to what I told you about making a 1 hour layover in Chicago, there isn’t a long list of useful tips for surviving a short layover in Atlanta. That being said, there are several things you can do to move faster and prevent yourself from stressing out:

  • If your connecting flight is at an adjacent terminal, it may be faster to walk (using the moving walkways) instead of taking the train. If you opt for the train, you’re going to have to wait in line. Then, you’ll have to wait for the next train. If it’s really busy (and it usually is), it’ll probably faster to hoof it.
  • Assuming you’re flying Delta, use the Delta Air Lines mobile app to get flight information (as opposed to depending on flight information displays within the airport). The Delta mobile app is updated in real-time, and will keep you up-to-date on everything you need to know in terms of making your connecting flight.
  • Walk at a very brisk pace. You don’t necessarily have to run, but you will have to power-walk in order to make a connection at the far end of the airport. RIP to anyone doing this with kids in tow.
Atlanta Airport underground train
I swear to God it’s impossible to get a pic of the underground tunnel and train at ATL without making it look like a prison, but it is what it is. Speaking of what it is, this is what you’ll see from the train as you’re zipping between concourses. Riveting, eh?

Some final words of encouragement for making short layovers at ATL

The most important thing you need to know is this: if you’re flying Delta and you missed your flight due to a short layover, chances are pretty good that there will be another flight headed to your destination within an hour or two.

Delta will automatically put you on that flight. You don’t have to do anything except show up at the gate and get your new boarding pass. Better yet, if you’re using the Delta mobile app, your new boarding pass will automatically be sent to you. You won’t even need to talk to anybody. Introverts rejoice!

Despite it’s beastly appearances, the Atlanta airport is one of the most efficient and well-run airports in the world. They move tens of millions of passengers through it every year, and they’ve learned a thing or two about optimizing flight schedules for short connection times.

If you just so happen to be booked on a flight with a 30 minute layover, don’t worry. One way or another, you are going to make it.

Comments (12)

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    February 20, 2021
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      February 21, 2021
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    May 12, 2021
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        July 14, 2021
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