As Summer Travel Begins, Don't Expect An Empty Airport
Passenger traffic at Charlotte Douglas International Airport remains down about two-thirds from where it was before the coronavirus pandemic. But if you're flying in or out of Charlotte this July 4th holiday weekend or the rest of the summer, don't assume you'll find an empty airport.
Back in March, Charlotte Douglas reported that traffic was down 95% as people stopped flying because of the virus. But Charlotte is recovering faster than many U.S. airports and CLT Aviation Director Brent Cagle said Tuesday the numbers are rising again, just as the airport gets ready for the Independence Day holiday.
"We have started to see a steady increase in the number of passengers really over about the last six weeks, and we forecast that continued increase in passengers throughout the summer," Cagle said.
Just over 10,000 local passengers are expected at the airport Thursday, which is expected to be the busiest day of the upcoming holiday weekend. That's far fewer than the 30,000 on a typical July 4th weekend. But Cagle said the airport will still be busy for travelers.
"If they haven't traveled since COVID-19 started, they're sort of making this assumption that they don't need to show up early, right? Maybe 30 minutes advances, because there's nobody else there," Cagle said. "That is not the case."
Cagle recommended arriving two hours early for a domestic flight. Some TSA security checkpoints remain closed, though they're gradually reopening as traffic rebounds. And you may have to search for parking.
"Right now, our hourly deck is the only parking facility that's open," Cagle said. "It is at a reduced rate of $10 a day. But we really think based on the demand that we're seeing, we'll be opening or reopening additional parking facilities over the next few days."
Cagle said travelers should check the airport website or app for the latest on parking availability.
Among the other changes to expect for the holiday: Some airport restaurants and shops also are reopening. And Cagle says the airport has all kinds of new cleaning and sanitizing procedures to help prevent spread of the coronavirus. Airport lines now are all marked for six-foot physical distancing between travelers.
And of course you'll have to wear a mask. North Carolina now requires face coverings in public places, and all the airlines that serve Charlotte won't let you on the plane without one. They're handing out free ones at information desks.
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