Atlanta passengers flying on Delta Air Lines this Thanksgiving may be in for a surprise when they get to the airport.
If Delta completes the first part of a $14 million lobby face-lift by mid-November as planned, the first thing many holiday travelers will see when they enter the Atlanta airport's South Terminal is a big island of check-in counters slanting across part of the lobby.
By next spring, Delta hopes to add two more check-in islands, surrounded by dozens of self-service check-in kiosks. The long, long row of ticket counters that's existed for decades will be history when the project is done.
Delta says the remodeling will nearly double the number of check-in positions in the lobby to 112, add 18 more kiosks, and open more space for customers to move through the lobby.
"This is going to open a wonderful flow-through for passengers, as opposed to a bottleneck," said Greg Kennedy, vice president in charge of Delta's Atlanta hub operations. Currently, passengers have to go around either end of the long wall of check-in counters to head for the security screening area or other parts of the airport.
It's the second phase of an Atlanta airport project Delta launched earlier this year as it retools all of its operations in Chapter 11 proceedings.
In the spring, Delta spent $12 million redoing its international check-in lobby to automate more procedures and switch to a sleek stainless-steel look. In the next phase, Delta is redoing the rest of the lobby in the same style and spiffing up seating and carpeting in concourses A, B and T.
The move also continues Delta's efforts in recent years to convert more functions that were formerly done by employees to tasks that customers can do with the help of computers.
In the latest phase, however, Delta says it has no plans to reduce the number of employees staffing the lobby.
The airline says it plans to speed up the check-in process and simplify employee training by switching to new software that will be easier for counter agents to use.
Delta is also modifying another bit of the check-in process, in a move it hopes will cut down on the noise and confusion of checking bags.
Currently, customers who have checked in using a self-service kiosk usually wait for a counter agent to call their name when their luggage tags are ready. Sometimes customers can't hear their names being called in the noisy lobby during busy periods, said Kennedy.
"This will alleviate the yelling and screaming because of the bag tag," he said.
Delta hopes to solve the problem with technology similar to those self-service scanners used in grocery stores.
Kennedy said a traveler will first check in at the self-service kiosk, then go to any island of check-in counters. There, the customer will allow another electronic scanner to read the boarding pass. That will cause a printer behind the counter to spit out luggage tags so that an agent can collect the bags and finish checking in the passenger.
Kennedy acknowledged the changes could take some getting used to, much as when Delta first switched to self-service kiosks three years ago. That move at first confused many customers, but most now prefer using the kiosks to lining up at ticket counters.
Kennedy said extra agents will be posted in the lobby during the holidays to answer travelers' questions about the new system.
"I think our lobby assist agents will take care of that for us," he said.
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