From the Hangars

ATL's Domestic Terminal turns 40!

Sep 21, 2020

On this day, Atlanta opened the largest airport terminal in the world in 1980. 

Dubbed "Midfield" because of its central location between the existing runways in 1980, it's today the Domestic Terminal at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport. 

Atlanta airport, ca. 1982

Midfield Terminal, ca. 1982. In center background is the blue-and-white old Atlanta terminal built in 1961.

ATL Midfield Construction exterior Feb 28, 1980
ATL Midfield curbside construction, February 28, 1980.

By the Numbers

In 1980, Atlanta's airport was the second busiest in the world, surpassed only by Chicago, and projected to easily become No. 1 within the decade. The sprawling new terminal was built for that future and accommodated:

  • 4 separate concourses for domestic flights, each with 33 airplane gates, with room to add a fifth concourse
  • An international concourse next to the main terminal with multilingual computers
  • 2.4 million square feet of usable space
  • 26,000 people employed either directly or related
  • 55 million passengers annually, with room for more expansion up to 75,000 passengers annually
  • People movers, including a 40-foot escalator and underground electric trains and moving sidewalks link the 1.5 miles between concourses and terminal
  • Contemporary interior of modern artwork, chrome, concrete and tile.

ATL Midfield baggage_claim_1980

Baggage claim at ATL, ca. 1980

ATL security checkpoint, ca 1980

TSA security checkpoint, ca. 1980

ATL moving_sidewalks, 1980

Moving sidewalks, 1980

Running for the Plane Train, ATL ca. 1980

Running for the Plane Train, ca. 1980

First Flights

Longtime airline rivals in Atlanta, Delta and Eastern competed to be the first airline to use the new terminal on Sunday, September 21.

ATL Midfield opening ceremony Borman, Garrett 

Eastern Airlines President (and former NASA astronaut) Frank Borman and Delta President & CEO Dave Garrett at opening ceremonies for Midfield Terminal.

Delta Flight 590, from Atlanta to Chattanooga and Knoxville, Tennessee, was the first to depart from Midfield Terminal at 12:48 a.m., although it also had been scheduled to leave from the old terminal. Delta bused the passengers from the old terminal to the gate at Concourse A for the departure.

Prior to the official flight by Eastern scheduled to arrive at 4:20 a.m., Delta's Flight 1671 from Dayton, Ohio, was towed to Gate 24 at Concourse A of the new terminal shortly after 1 a.m. Dispatchers had not allowed the plane to taxi into the gate at Midfield.

Delta first flights ATL MidField Terminal 9/21/1980

The first passengers were greeted with a secretly-planned celebration of champagne and hors d'oeuvres, and each presented with a commemorative gift made of a piece of tile from the new terminal. The passengers were then bused to the old terminal.

At 2 a.m., Runway 26 at ATL was closed and the move from the old 1961 terminal began. By 3 a.m., over 1,000 pieces of ground support equipment had been relocated and the new gates were being set up for the "early bird" flights arriving in a few hours. By 6 a.m., the ramp at Midfield was buzzing with activity. Inside the terminal, thousands of passengers found their way to their flights, were boarded, and by 7 a.m., the first push at the new terminal was over.

Delta check-in ATL 1980s

Delta check-in counters, Atlanta, 1980s

Delta at Midfield

 Delta aircraft at gates, ATL, c1982

Delta aircraft at gates in Atlanta, ca. 1982

Describing its Atlanta operations in September 1981, Delta reported: "[Our] connecting complex at ATL is the largest simultaneous operation by a single airline at any airport in the world. Ten times each day, as many as 49 Delta jets arrive from 58 different cities. Passengers may conveniently transfer to other Delta flights or continue on the same aircraft to their final destinations."

"Delta puts Atlanta first. Again." ad 1981

  "Delta Puts Atlanta First. Again." magazine ad, 1981.

More Info & Images

Visit these sites to learn more about Midfield Terminal's design and early operations—and see some great photos, ads and planning schematics!

Marie Force

Archives Director

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