Atlanta As a business traveler who flies 100,000 miles a year on Delta Air Lines, Jay Spencer is used to flying through the world's busiest hub at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
As a result, he's very familiar with the airport's infamous delays - anything, he says, lasting from 15 minutes to three hours.
"They say you don't go to heaven or hell without flying through Atlanta," said the 45-year-old real estate investor from Salt Lake City.
Thanks to a new 9,000-foot runway scheduled to open May 27, the airport's officials are pledging to cut those delays in half, which also could mean fewer and shorter delays throughout the entire air transportation network in the United States and possibly the world.
That's because no other airport in the world handles more passengers. Nearly 86 million people pass through the Atlanta airport each year on more than 980,000 flights - one taking off or landing about every 30 seconds. They fly direct to 157 cities in the U.S. and 65 others in 43 different countries.
"You take an airplane delay at Hartsfield - 20 minutes - now it's delayed at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago," said Terry Trippler, an airline industry expert for Cheapseats.com. "If an airline cancels a flight, there's no place to put the people - you can't move them to another flight because those flights are filled."
The runway is part of a major overhaul at the airport that also includes the tallest air traffic control tower in North America, standing at 398 feet, and an "end-around" taxiway - the first of its kind in the country - that will help keep arriving flights from being delayed by having to wait to cross busy runways before reaching their gates.
The airport's new fifth runway and a new runway monitor system will help it bring in three different streams of planes at the same time, even during foul weather. The reduced delays should reduce operating costs for airlines by an estimated total of $5 million a week, said Ben DeCosta, the airport's general manager.
Air traffic has gotten so congested at the Atlanta airport that a quarter of all scheduled flights are delayed - ranking fourth worst among the nation's major airports, according to federal Bureau of Transportation statistics.