By Maria-Jose Subiria
Before heading to Panama City, Fla., Jane Allen -- a passenger who recently arrived at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport from Canada with her two daughters -- visited the airport's rental car center.
While pushing her luggage on a Smarte Carte, Allen looked up and around the facility.
She noticed that the customer service area, on the third floor, is connected to the parking garage which houses the rental vehicles.
"I think it is great that everything is on one level, with the cars and everything," she said.
Allen, who hails from Toronto, said she has rented a car at Hartsfield-Jackson before, and enjoys the new rental car center because it eliminates the need for lifting luggage onto a rental car company shuttle, and lifting it again when exiting the shuttle to a parking lot to retrieve a rental vehicle.
"Now, I only have to push the Smarte Carte and I get there [to the vehicle] quicker," she said while approaching the 2010 Chevy Impala she rented from Avis Rent A Car System.
The airport's off-site rental car center opened on Dec. 7, 2009, and is part of Hartsfield-Jackson's $6 billion-plus Capital Improvement Program, according to airport officials.
According to Al Snedeker, Capital Improvement Program public relations manager for Hartsfield-Jackson, more than 2 million passengers complete rental car transactions each year at the world's busiest airport.
He said city-approved budget documents show the rental car center, and its accompanying ATL SkyTrains and 1.5-mile-long elevated railway, cost $648 million. Snedeker said uses for the open space at the airport that once housed the rental car companies are still under review.
Danny Valle, a passenger who arrived at Hartsfield-Jackson from New York, said that while it was his first time at the airport's rental car center, he was very impressed with the facility.
"So far it is nice," he said. "It seems spacious, not too crowded. Everyone's been helpful."
Gloria Valle, Danny Valle's mother, said the facility appeared to be very efficient and that the center helps cut down on walking.
"This is a huge airport -- it is amazing," she said. "There is a lot of parking and a lot of walking. It is good you have those air trains [Automated People Movers]."
According to Paula Rivera, manager of public affairs for Hertz, the rental car company has been operating more efficiently since moving to the rental car center.
"We have more than doubled our service space," said Rivera.
Passengers who visit the rental car center exit the ATL SkyTrain to the passenger-train platform level, on the fourth floor, and are greeted by customer service agents who offer directions and other assistance, said Snedeker. The agents work for Meridian Management Corporation, a company contracted by the airport that operates and provides maintenance services at the rental car center, he added.
According to Snedeker, rental car companies such as Hertz and Avis Rent A Car System are located on the third floor, and Enterprise, Budget Rent A Car, Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group, National Car Rental and Alamo Rent A Car and others are located on the second floor. Snedeker said the second and third floors also have bathrooms, vending machines and elevators.
When asked if concessions would be opened at the rental car center, Snedeker said, "It wasn't really built as a place to dwell."
He added that there are Delta Air Lines flight check-in kiosks at the rental car center, and AirTran Airways flight check-in kiosks will be installed soon.
The first floor of the center houses the administrative offices of Meridian Management Corporation, and provides bus lanes, in case the ATL SkyTrain malfunctions and is unable to transport passengers to the airport, Snedeker said. The rental car center is served by six, two-car ATL SkyTrains, he added.
"They haven't had an instance where they malfunction yet," said Snedeker.
According to Snedeker, airport statistics show that the ATL SkyTrains have a 99.8 percent operation reliability.
Snedeker said that during peak times, from 10 a.m., to 6 p.m., passengers who use the ATL SkyTrain wait a maximum of two minutes to board the train.
Snedeker said airport statistics also show that since its grand opening, the ATL SkyTrain system has made approximately 50,000 trips, for 75,000 miles, to the rental car center. On a daily basis, the system makes approximately 500 trips, he said.
The rental car center offers rental car companies 13 quick-turnaround areas, where employees are able to refuel, wash, and perform light maintenance on rental vehicles.
The complex also includes two, four-story parking decks, 2.8 million square feet of parking, more than 8,700 parking spaces, 1,200 additional ground-level parking spaces, 12 rental car agencies and a 137,000-square-foot customer service center, according to airport officials.
"It was important, because the airport has grown so much and it is forecasted to continue growing," said Snedeker.