Delta Air Lines will have the majority of the check-in counters at the new terminal.

Everything went smoothly for Melva Brown on her first trip through the Atlanta airport’s new international terminal.

The only way it could’ve been better? If she were really going to see Paris in spring.

“I’m just sorry I’m not taking a real flight today,” said Ms. Brown, who worked eight years as personal assistant to Ben DeCosta, the airport’s previous general manager.

“This was impressive,” Ms. Brown said of the gleaming new terminal, where workers in yellow vests and hardhats busily drilled and painted while 1,600 people performed a dress rehearsal for its May 16 opening.   

After signing up for the four-hour simulation on May 2, volunteers – ranging from airline employees to novice travelers – received scripts that routed them through the new facility.

Guests toting two suitcases apiece arrived through the airport’s new “front door” off Interstate 75: a straight thoroughfare lined with flags from around the world. Many started in parking lots and shuttled to the terminal.

Others began their journey at airline counters, where they received “tickets” to far-flung locales like ShanghaiChina, and MumbaiIndia. After passing through sparse security lines, they were tasked with finding their simulated flights at 12 new departure gates.

Carolyn Chandler, a retired librarian, wore a red and yellow shirt with the seal of Papua New Guinea, a country that she’s wanted to visit since she drove members of its Olympic team around Atlanta in 1996.

Having taken real trips to AustraliaTurkey and Poland, her simulation ticket to Stockholm would’ve represented her shortest foreign flight ever.

Formerly married to a Pan-Am pilot who rarely took her along, Ms. Chandler has a lot of countries left on her “bucket list.”

“I love to travel, and we’ve been desperately in need of a new terminal, and I wanted to see it first hand,” she told GlobalAtlanta.

Her only complaint was shared by many – confusing signs in the parking deck.

Others grumbled about signage within the terminal and the fact that there were only a few clocks posted on the walls. Some endured long lines at customs. A few bathroom systems malfunctioned.

Uncovering such issues was the reason for hosting the dry run, said Balram Bheodari, the airport’s deputy general manager and head of its international terminal activation team.

“Those issues that we find, whether simple to complex procedures, we have enough time to resolve those issues prior to opening day to ensure that our customers are well taken care of on day one,” Mr. Bheodari said.

For the most part, feedback at the end of the day was “extremely positive,” he said.

Carla Plouin, a marketing and communications consultant, gave it a passing grade. She liked the abundant charging stations for electronic devices and appreciated the park-and-ride lot, which was covered, unlike similar lots at the north and south terminals.

Now running her own business, Ms. Plouin will use the airport less frequently than when she coordinated international trade missions for the Georgia Department of Economic Development. But now, the France native said, she’ll be able to travel more for fun.

Linda Mitchell had the same idea. Although she works as an executive assistant for an Atlanta-based subsidiary of German giant Siemens, she’s only been outside the U.S. once. She hopes the terminal will be her jumping off point for excursions to places like Belize, France, even Germany.

“This was the perfect place to see how everything is going to be, how everything moves, and I think they are doing a great job,” Ms. Mitchell said.

The terminal is expected to handle 13 million passengers per year by 2015, up from 10 million in 2011.

The 1.2 million-square-foot facility is generating buzz as its opening day approaches. It was the theme of Global Connect, an international networking event held downtown on the evening of May 3.

Speaking at the event, Mayor Kasim Reed praised the new terminal before joining other dignitaries there for a reception by airport General Manager Louis Miller.

Another Global Connect guest, Arnaldo Ruiz, the airport’s assistant general manager for customer service, outlined the facility’s advantages, including the fact that passengers ending their journeys in Atlanta would no longer have to recheck bags and or pass through security checkpoints.

A main concern for airport officials is mitigating confusion about how to access the terminal. While many travelers are accustomed to using the existing entrance on Interstate 85, international travelers will be required to access the terminal via exit 239 on I-75.

On May 2, digital signs had been posted to alert travelers to the upcoming changes. Permanent signs had been set up but will remain covered with black tarps until the terminal opens on May 16.


As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...