Charlotte Douglas International Airport is feeling the crunch of lost parking spaces as the airport plows through one of the busiest travel days of the year, with fliers facing traffic jams and long, slow-moving lines of cars.
Airport officials are urging fliers to leave extra early this year. They’re also saying travelers should carpool, take a cab, take the Sprinter bus from uptown or get a ride to Charlotte Douglas to avoid parking. Shuttle buses were standing-room only Wednesday morning.
A wreck, meanwhile, was snarling traffic at 9 a.m. on inbound Billy Graham Parkway toward the Charlotte-Douglas terminal, the airport said on its Twitter account. No further details were available.
Despite the traffic jams Tuesday night and wreck Wednesday morning, several passengers interviewed early Wednesday said they had no problem finding a parking spot.
Norwood Chestnutt of Gastonia said he easily found a space in the Daily lot.
John McNeace, a 73-year-old retired contractor from Charlotte, was headed to the Bahamas Wednesday morning and had no problem parking in a handicap space in Long Term parking. He said 10 handicap spaces were open. “The bus was right there to pick me up,” he said.
LaQuetta Dawson, 32, of Charlotte, a graduate student at Pfeiffer University, did what airport officials are advising travelers to do to avoid parking headaches: Have someone drop them off. Dawson said her boyfriend dropped her off at the airport Wednesday morning. and her flight to visit family in Fort Worth, Texas, was on time.
For some passengers, just making it to the airport was an ordeal.
Karl Shellenberger Sr., 52, of Asheville said his car engine kept freezing and it took him 27 hours to finally arrive at the airport in a tow truck at 10 p.m. Tuesday. He spent the night on the airport floor. “I haven’t had anything to eat, but I’m going to eat on the plane, I hope,” he said.
Shellenberger was headed to Hawaii to get married and then to the Philippines as part of a typhoon relief effort and to meet his wife’s parents.
Adam Stacklin, 18, of Chicago, is a student at Virginia Tech who said his two flights from Roanoke to Chicago were cancelled Tuesday. At 12:15 a.m. Wednesday, he caught a bus to Charlotte and arrived at the airport about 6:30 a.m. “It was horrible,” he said of the experience, but his flight to Chicago was on time. “It was exhausting.”
Edward Melvin, 53, of Greensboro, arrived at 7 a.m. with his wife for a flight to Las Vegas but were told they were too late. Melvin, Democratic candidate for sheriff of Guilford County, learned the next flight is 4:30 p.m. “It’s so discouraging,” he said. Luckily he had his tablet with him. “I’ll be looking at a movie, maybe five or six movies,” he said.
But later in the morning, passengers were reporting a tougher time finding a space.
Casey Crimmins said it took him 10 to 15 minutes to find a space after he realized that Long Term Lots 1, 2 and 3 were closed. He, wife, Tanya, and their children were flying to Albany, N.Y.
At 10 a.m., open parking options included Long Term Lot 4, Daily East and West Decks and Business Valet, the airport said on Twitter.
Assistant Aviation Director Herb Judon’s advice for travelers: “Get out here a couple of hours in advance.”
Ryan Mount, 40, of Greensboro followed Judon’s advice. He left home at 6:30 a.m. for an 11 a.m. flight. “I’d rather be safe than sorry,” said Mount, who was headed to San Antonio for his grandparent’s 55th wedding anniversary.
Fawn Hahnenberg, of Mooresville, was traveling with her husband and two young sons. She said she had no problems getting to the airport or finding parking.
“There’s been no problems,” she said. “I was really surprised.”
Early Wednesday, flights to airports in the Northeast were delayed, including Philadelphia, Newark, JfK and LaGuardia.
Traffic jams go with busy travel days
By early evening Tuesday, cars were backed up from the terminal to Wilkinson Boulevard and Billy Graham Parkway, a distance of a mile or more. On Twitter, motorists complained of delays up to an hour to reach the terminal.
The delays come at a busy time of year for air travel, and one that typically brings out legions of infrequent leisure travelers who often don’t know how to navigate airports as well as seasoned frequent fliers. Airport officials said extra staff is on hand at Charlotte Douglas, and the airport has a plan to efficiently fill the long-term parking lots.
The Wednesday before Thanksgiving was one of the busiest days of the year last year for Charlotte Douglas, with 24,498 local passengers using the airport. So far this year, passenger traffic is up about 5 percent.
This year, signs point to increased holiday flying. The Federal Aviation Administration said Tuesday that airline travel will be up 15 percent for the whole Thanksgiving holiday.
And in Charlotte, which is the eighth-busiest U.S. airport by passengers, construction projects have left the airport with fewer parking spaces than in recent years. Charlotte Douglas is down about 4,000 spots because the airport tore down the hourly parking decks in front of the terminal. The new, expanded hourly decks should be open by November of 2014.
Judon said Charlotte Douglas was directing travelers to park in the Long Term 4 lot off Old Dowd Road on Tuesday. The airport’s plan is to fill certain long-term lots before opening more, allowing for more efficient use of shuttle buses, Judon said. That’s why Long Term lots 1, 2 and 3 were closed Tuesday even though they aren’t full to capacity.
“We’re still doing the strategic approach,” said Judon. “We’re gonna fill up Long Term 4 first.”
Judon said he doesn’t think the airport parking will fill up completely. There is a 400-spot overflow lot prepared in case, but Judon said it probably won’t be necessary. The daily and business valet lots were also open Tuesday.
Judon said extra personnel were at the airport to direct traffic and that additional shuttle buses were driving between the parking lots and the terminal. The airport has also temporarily suspended its curbside valet drop-off service in order to keep traffic flowing.
The construction projects limiting parking were started under former Aviation Director Jerry Orr. He was removed from his city job in July, after the N.C. General Assembly passed a bill transferring control of the airport from the city to a new, independent regional authority. The city has sued to block the law, and the airport remains under the city’s control.
Airlines and airports across the nation are also dealing with the effects of a storm that was lashing the Midwest and East Coast with rain and snow Tuesday. The storm was expected to continue into Wednesday.
At Charlotte Douglas, the storm disrupted some flights. By Tuesday night, 19 departing flights had been canceled and 228 delayed, according to FlightStats.com. Other airports, from New York’s LaGuardia Airport to Chicago O’Hare to Dallas/Fort Worth, were experiencing similar delays.
One plane, a Southwest Airlines jet, was de-iced early Tuesday at Charlotte Douglas, according to the airport. US Airways, the airport’s main carrier, didn’t conduct de-icing operations as the temperature stayed above freezing.
Airport officials advised checking with your airline to see if a flight is delayed before heading out for the airport.
Don Roberts, 65, of Charlotte was wearing shorts as he and his wife, Sharon, 63, stood in the check-in line Wednesday morning for their flight to the Bahamas.
Asked if he had a problem getting to the airport, Roberts said, “Not in the least. It’s wonderful when you have a limo take you to the front door.”
On Thanksgiving Day, Sharon Roberts said, “We’ll be at the pool drinking beer, doing sun and eating a turkey sandwich.”
Observer staff photographer Todd Sumlin contributed.
Portillo: 704-358-5041; Twitter: @ESPortillo
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