After a Thanksgiving travel week marred by long traffic jams in front of the terminal, airport officials said theyre opening Charlotte Douglas Internationals first kiss-and-fly lot in an attempt to relieve congestion.
The free lot opens Tuesday and will operate through Jan. 3, the height of travel season.
Located at the corner of Old Dowd Road and Harlee Avenue, both arriving and departing travelers will be able to use the parking. That would allow people dropping off or picking up passengers to avoid terminal roads.
If its popular, airport officials say they will consider extending the service past early January.
Parking at Charlotte Douglas has been disrupted this year by construction projects, including the new hourly parking decks being built in front of the terminal. That $120-million project eliminated 4,000 hourly spots, contributing to delays for drivers.
This is such a busy season for customers, and we want to help make getting to and from Charlotte Douglas a more stress-free experience, said Herbert Judon, assistant aviation director of operations.
It will keep a percentage of cars off the terminal roadway.
Heres how kiss-and-fly works: Travelers who are flying out can get dropped off at the lot and take the Long Term 4 parking lot shuttle to the terminal, while arriving travelers can take the shuttle to meet their ride there.
Shuttles will run every 15 minutes, and airport officials say it will take about five to seven minutes to get from the parking lot to the terminal.
The lot will be available from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., and spotters will be in place to help guide drivers.
Overall, the number of parking spaces currently available at Charlotte Douglas is down from 26,000 to about 22,000. That number will increase to about 28,000 in November 2014, when the new hourly decks open.
A new airport entrance road is also under construction, creating intermittent delays around Little Rock Road.
To cope with the limited parking spaces, airport officials have been urging travelers to carpool, take the Sprinter bus or get a ride from a friend to Charlotte Douglas.
Still, traffic jams stretched from the terminal to Billy Graham Parkway and Wilkinson Boulevard at times during the days leading up to Thanksgiving.
The airport construction will continue next year as crews start work building a larger roadway in front of the terminal. The 2 1/2-year project will eventually expand the roadway from three to eight lanes.
During construction, though, the airport will have to shift traffic between stretches of the new road and the current road during construction.
The holiday rush has a different quality around Christmas than Thanksgiving, airport officials say.
While Thanksgiving tends to see the busiest days all year with tens of thousands of travelers packed into a frenetic rush before and after the holiday, Christmas is more of a steady buildup.
During the Christmas holidays, in my mind, this is kind of a test period, Judon said. We definitely hope it will catch on.
When asked if the kiss-and-fly lot is a direct response to the traffic snarls over Thanksgiving, Judon said it was an idea the airport heard from both travelers and staff to relieve congestion.
Any time we have an event or a holiday season, we go back and do a lessons learned session, Judon said.
Other airports have turned to kiss-and-fly lots to help with congestion. New Yorks Kennedy International Airport offers the option, as does San Francisco International Airport.
The kiss, by the way, is optional, Kennedy International Airport reassures travelers on its website.
Judon said the same policy applies at Charlotte Douglas.
Portillo: 704-358-5041; Twitter: @ESPortillo
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