Atlanta – retail makeover for the world’s biggest airport

Atlanta Hartsfield airport storesFor Atlanta International Terminal Shopping,  Despite what you may have heard, bigger isn’t always better. For instance, Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson is very proud of the fact that it is has been the world’s busiest airport for a decade, handling close on 90m passengers last year.

Yet if on-line travel forums are anything to go by, the airport has a pretty dismal track record among frequent travellers for delays, missed flight connections, congestion and poor customer service.

However, the good news is that this giant US hub and home to Delta Airlines allocated a large amount of cash ($6bn) to putting things right. More security lines, a better choice of car parking options, a new centralised car rental facility and greater shopping choice are just some of the improvements that have taken place.

The shopping offer is getting a much-needed makeover too. Some 70 new shops and restaurants opened in the airport’s main Atrium and in five of its six concourses (T, A, B, C and D) at the end of June 2009.The new line up includes several brands making their standalone US airport store debut such as Italian fashion labels Salvatore Ferragamo and Ermenegildo Zegna (both Concourse A), as well as must-have business accessory BlackBerry and Sean John (both Concourse B), the latter being a store selling clothing and fragrances branded to the ubiquitous US hip hop singer.

Traditionally, there hasn’t been a great deal to tempt female shoppers at Hartsfield-Jackson so many of the new stores target the fairer sex. Examples include the Lancôme Beauty Lounge (Concourse B), lingerie brand Luxe International (Concourse C) and crystal jewellery chain Swarovski (Concourse T). We also hear there are imminent plans to open a beauty spa on each concourse.

Travellers at Hartsfield-Jackson are clearly a literate bunch as a host of news stores and bookshops are also opening on each concourse. If it’s local news you want, head to Atlanta Daily World, which has stores on Concourses B, C and D.

The New York Times Books & News outlet in The Atrium offers a popular Read & Return Program, where customers can buy a book, read it, return it, and receive a 50% refund on the initial price. It’s a neat idea other airport books shops would do well to copy.

In my experience airport gift stores tend towards the tacky and clichéd so it’s refreshing to see two innovative and distinctive shops opening in this neglected retail sector at Hartsfield-Jackson. Both are officially linked to major Atlanta tourist attractions.Beyond the Reef (Atrium) sells clothing, toys, games and books branded to the city’s famous Georgia Aquarium, which bills itself as the “world’s largest aquarium”.

If stuffed toy whales or seahorse-shaped key rings aren’t your thing, head for Panda Veranda (Concourse B), a gift shop selling merchandise from Zoo Atlanta. The stores features a live webcam feed to the zoo’s famous panda family, featuring Lun Lun (mum), Yang Yang (dad), Mei Lan (sister) and cub Xi Lan.

Duty-free was never a big part of the shopping scene at Atlanta airport as international travellers only make up about 10% of total passenger numbers. However, it’s worth noting a new duty-free retailer took over in Concourse E (the international terminal) last year, opening a much bigger 640sq m shop.

This brightly coloured, well laid-out store is a world better than its predecessor and definitely worth a visit. In our opinion the spirits selection, especially white spirits, bourbons and Scotch whiskies, as well as the fragrances and cosmetics section, are vastly improved.May 2012 saw the opening of the new Maynard H. Jackson Jr International Terminal. See our new detailed guide: Maynard H. Jackson Jr International Terminal Shopping. The retail showing here will be strong and in addition to two large duty free stores carrying an extensive range of perfumes, cosmetics and fashion accessories are complimented by the lastest ranges from Tommy Hilfiger, Sunglass Icon and Brookstone – the full range of skincare products from Kiehl’s, MAC Cosmetics and The Body Shop.

If you’re hungry the choice is extensive – Jekyll Island Seafood Co., Ecco Kitchen, Lorena Garcia Tapas Bar, Pan Wei Asian Diner and French meadow bakery amongst others.
The opening includes Sweet Auburn Market Café, French Meadow Bakery, Pei Wei Asian Diner, The Varsity, The Original El Taco and The Pecan.

In the past the majority of passengers who use Atlanta airport were transferring between domestic US flights. Sadly, many travellers being too busy dashing between concourses to catch their connecting flights to pay much attention to the shops and restaurants.

With the new dedicated international terminal, that may all change.

Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson fact filePassengers: 89.3 (2010), 88m (2009), 90m (2008)
Concourses: Atrium, A, B, C, D, E (international)
Shops and restaurants: 227 concession outlets

For information on US Customs rules please see our quick guide: 
United States Customs Allowance and Exemptions

Airport and Concourse Maps of Atlanta HartsfieldEasy to use and printout, airport maps.

 Atlanta Concourse A (219k)
 Atlanta Concourse B (236k)
 Atlanta Concourse C (225k)
 Atlanta Concourse D (225k)
 Atlanta Concourse E (222k)
 Atlanta Concourse T (220k)