The Simple Fraud Behind Atlanta Airport’s 100 Millionth Passenger

When I was a kid I knew that “whether you’re going to heaven or hell, you’ll have to connect in Atlanta.”

It wasn’t until 1971 though that the airport got its first international flights (Mexico and Jamaica on Eastern Airlines). The first non-US airline to fly to Atlanta was Sabena in 1978.

    Eastern Air Lines L-188 Electra N5512 by Piergiuliano Chesi. CC BY-SA 3.0

It’s the ideally-located major city for connections throughout the Southeast. United basically cedes this entire region. American didn’t serve it well from Miami. The closest competitor was US Airways, now part of American, in Charlotte.

Delta dominates Atlanta, of course, though they were briefly challenged by Airtran. Southwest, as acquirer, hasn’t become the silver bullet there some might have expected.

As the busiest airport in the world by passenger count, it surprisingly doesn’t get there through massive widebody jets full of passengers. It’s largely a domestic airport, though there certainly is an international route network. Most flights out of the airport are on narrow bodies.

I much like the airport’s North Terminal, and especially flying American there — as a carrier with only a small presence upgrades are easy and there’s an Admirals Club right near their gates.

It’s the first place I ever saw an iPod vending machine which I think said something about where we were 10 years ago.

This year the Atlanta City Council unanimously voted for the airport’s general manager to report to them on how they can get people to use Hartsfield and Jackson when referring to the airport. Those two names refer to two past mayors of Atlanta, and the city wants your reverence for them.

The airport is about to cross an amazing threshold: its 100 millionth passenger in a single year, sometime in the second half of December. This is a milestone no airport has ever reached before.

But the person they will name the 100 millionth passenger won’t really be the 100 millionth passenger. (Emphasis mine.)

As there is no single entryway to count passengers entering into the terminals on a one by one basis, the accounting firm will help the airport pinpoint to the record day when the 100 million threshold is crossed. According to the airport spokesperson Reese McCranie, a passenger will be randomly chosen from that day and be given a prize to be determined to celebrate the occasion.

It’s amazing that Atlanta will process 100 million passengers this year. Celebrate that as an airport achievement — don’t say that a particular person is the 100 millionth when they’re not.

This probably won’t be a popular view (I believe many controversial things…) but it just seems wrong and disingenuous — though I anticipate most readers will view the sleight of hand as being all in good fun.

Nonetheless, the airport deserves congratulations for how well overall they handle the volume of flights and people. But 100 million passengers really does make one wonder whether Atlanta will ever get the second airport the city bought land for in the 1970s (and that Delta opposes).

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. I am still trying to figure out what the first five paragraphs have to do with the topic in question. Ipod? Huh?

  2. I am still trying to figure out why mark reads this blog every day, bitches about it every day, and is still welcomed by Gary to comment here.

  3. It’s the same reason everyone reads the blog: To see if I’ll deign to make a comment. Hmmmph!

  4. Come on, Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport? It just rolls off the tongue. In fact, if they’re feeling so verbose, maybe add a corporate sponsor? “Snickers Breaktime Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport”, or something similar? Now we’re talking.

  5. Agreed. Picking a 100 millionth passenger at random is…silly. That is unless I happened to be the one.

  6. There is an old joke in Atlanta that the next stop for a person who is mayor of Atlata is Club Fed. Nobody who lives here really expects the airport to do anything that isn’t irritating. 🙂 fun tip…. When you land at ATL, look at the whole list of hilarity on the options for Facebook Checkin (the LaToya Jackson intergalactic Space Port and Hot Wings Express is by far the favorit but there are some other good ones out there. For the record, I still call if Hartsfield.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *