Southern Hospitality it Ain’t: ATL and MEM international arrivals require security check just to exit

Playing Delta same-day confirmed roulette today, The Rapid Traveler lost out on his desired nonstop flight Minneapolis to Las Vegas and instead found himself backtracking through Memphis. For non-Delta flyers, same-day confirmed allows gold medallion and above to freely change domestic flights on the day of travel, within three hours of new flight’s departure, keeping destination the same but routing is flexible for legal routings. Silver and non-medallions pay $50, which still can be a good deal if fares widely vary on a given day. But there is always the risk that flights are not available come three hours out, which happened today, the nine economy seats on the seat map illusory, and the nonstop and the following, last nonstop both oversold.

It was a chance for The Rapid Traveler to see Memphis Airport (MEM) for the first time, despite being a NW/DL flyer all his life. The narrow, brick-lined hallways were hulking and claustrophobic. The Sky Club was elegant ex-NW style and the agent* surprised The Rapid Traveler by hospitably asking, “Is this your first time visiting this club? The restrooms are over here, refreshments this way…” It occurred to The Rapid Traveler that he had never heard an agent volunteer to introduce a club. Chalk it up to Southern Hospitality.

Back to the point, it is important for international travelers to know that Memphis and Atlanta, through incomprehensibly poor design, have all international arrivals exit to their respective main terminals, necessitating another trip through security and re-check of checked luggage, even for passengers completing their travel at those airports. Atlanta’s new Terminal F will eliminate this problem; Memphis does not appear to have any plans to follow suit. This has no direct impact on connecting passengers other than potentially longer waits at security. iFly has good detail and maps for ATL and MEM for those who can overcome its endless pop-ups.

Once The Rapid Traveler made the mistake of buying a bottle of liquor in Dubai duty free and that darn bottle cost him fifty minutes in Atlanta. Now his Atlanta friends only receive chocolate and cancer sticks.

Readers, are there any other airports in the US or elsewhere in the world that have this exasperating arrangement? What is the most time this has cost you in ATL or MEM?

*Name withheld for privacy, but if she is kind enough to be reading this, she is welcome to say hello in the comments.

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8 Comments on "Southern Hospitality it Ain’t: ATL and MEM international arrivals require security check just to exit"

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Rapid Travel Chai

@ Kevin Finn – How long does it typically take a people with or without luggage to exit? Is there any benefit to the 80% connecting over the typical airport that lets arriving passengers directly exit?

kevin finn

I live in Memphis and never had a problem with exiting the customs hall and clearing security to the concourse in order to exit the building, so not sure what the big problem would be for you unless you are just impatient.
Since 80% or more of the international arriving passengers at MEM connect to other flights, the design had a purpose when the terminal was constucted in the mid 60’s, so what you call an incomprehensibly poor design is actually practical to most others.

Marshall Jackson

Aside from the unattractive concourses, I’ve always appreciated MEM as a connecting point, especially the Sky Club. RDU used to have a similarly goofy security setup when returning from international flights, but thankfully, Terminal 2 addressed that.

By the way, I don’t think I’ve said so yet…. good to see you here!

I was there the other day and it looked as if the city was being invaded by FedEx. I used to fly in and out of MEM back when it was a NW hub and thought that it was a good airport for a short connection, but not so good if on a long layover. MSP and DTW had (and have) much better dining options. But now that it’s a Delta hub, if given the choice, I’d rather connect in MEM than ATL. As for having to clear security again when arriving on an international flight, I avoid Boston for… Read more »

You could always refuse screening, there are some great trip reports on this subject over on FT, where the authorities would be forced to escort you out of the building thus bypassing a screening and allowing you to keep your duty free liquids.

Rapid Travel Chai

@Bryan – That sounds like it would be quite the experience, I will check out the FT threads.

New Girl in the Air

Remind me not to fly through MEM! Glad you were able to enjoy a little southern hospitality, though.


PIT, although we don’t have regular scheduled international arrivals