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Secrets of Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson airport

By Pamela Berger, Special to CNN
The downstairs entrance for Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport will be less crowded than the upstairs entrance.
The downstairs entrance for Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport will be less crowded than the upstairs entrance.
  • A self-proclaimed airport sleuth shares tricks to make traveling easier, faster and comfortable
  • Hartsfield International's E Terminal food court is the only area with free Wi-Fi
  • Minute Suites at B Terminal offers secluded napping stations for $30 an hour

(CNN) -- Call it odd, but I'm a self-appointed airport sleuth. I apply this title to travelers who weave their way in and out of airport terminals, bypassing lines, crowds and stress, and ultimately finding devilish gratification in knowing what others don't.

As a longtime resident of Atlanta, I've passed through the world's busiest airport hundreds of times and have a few handy tricks that make life a bit easier, faster and more comfortable. It's not very sleuth-like of me to share my secrets, but my hope is you'll share yours, and together, we can expand our sleuth-like ways ...

1. If you're dropping off or picking up someone from the north or south side, use the downstairs entrance instead of the upstairs. There are check-in kiosks and baggage services below (south side only) and barely any lines or even cops to tell you to keep moving. It's guaranteed to save you time. Plus, you avoid the crowds and chaos above as you slip past the masses with ease.

2. There's a lesser-known security checkpoint with six lanes by the American check-in counter on the north side. Also, on the south side past Delta ticketing and the Brooks Brothers store, you'll see Delta's own set of four security lanes. If the main security is super busy, try either of these as a possible faster option, no matter which airline you're flying.

Road warriors' best tips for smooth travel

3. If you're lucky enough to be departing from the T Gate, enter through the side security lanes, (either north or south) and then walk to the T Gate. This is actually faster than going through the main security and taking the tram. I love the T Gate!

4. When heading to baggage claim after your flight arrives (from A, B, C, D or E terminals), be sure to board the very first car of the tram. This will let you out in front of the hordes of people now behind you and up the escalator to baggage claim first. Freedom! It's one of my favorite secrets, so shhh ...

5. Wi-Fi isn't free at the airport, unless you're at the E Terminal food court. Hojeij Branded Foods provides the free service that can help time slip on by. So if you have a long layover, take the tram to E Terminal, and maybe you'll have the added benefit of meeting a cute international man (or woman) of mystery. What airport sleuth wouldn't love that?

6. Exhausted from traveling, and have a long layover? Go to Minute Suites at B Terminal. Here, full-service secluded napping stations are offered for $30 an hour. Minute Suites was the first of its kind in the country. (Philadelphia International Airport is now the second.) Besides a daybed and blankets, each suite offers a high-definition television and workstation with a phone, desk, office chair and Internet. As soon as you find out your flight is delayed, be the sleuth that you are and leave your irked co-passengers behind in exchange for some quiet time with your feet up, door shut, blanket tucked and the TV tuned to "Million Dollar Decorators." (Oh, how I love that show.)

This isn't the airline I signed up for

7. Flying can be uncomfortable enough, so I believe in making airport time a bit indulgent. Concourse A (across from the food court) and C (opposite Gate C37) have an XPresSpa. Prices are $20 for a manicure or $25 for a 10-minute massage. Or grab an old-fashioned shoeshine offered at gates A20 and B17. A bit of glam goes a long way for the airport sleuth.

8. Sign up for Trak-a-Flight, the free service offered by Atlanta Airport that provides updated flight information to e-mail accounts, PDAs or mobile devices. This service provides instant access to any changes made to your flight. Knowledge is key if you want to take this title seriously.

9. Want to forgo fast food for a fine dining experience? Then head to the E Concourse and grab a seat at "One Flew South." A couple of entree highlights are Thyme Roasted Pork Belly and Fennel and Coriander crusted Lamb Tenderloin. The restaurant also has an excellent sushi menu. For dessert, I suggest the sublime red wine and ginger-poached plums that make you forget you're at an airport. Or if you're just in need of a scrumptious cocktail, saddle up to the bar for the "Portrait of a Bartender," made with Finian's Irish Whiskey, St. Germain Elderflower and organic bitters. That delicious Elderflower makes me sigh with happiness every time.

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Have some secret tips to share in navigating ATL or your own hometown airport? I want in on them! Please share your comments and suggestions below. And shhh ... let's keep this between us!