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Kiss-and-fly lot not attracting many travelers

Charlotte Douglas International Airport’s experiment with a new “kiss-and-fly” parking lot isn’t attracting a lot of drivers, but airport officials said Monday they still hope the option could help relieve airport congestion.

“It’s been lightly used. There’s typically a handful of cars there,” said Herbert Judon, assistant aviation director. The new parking lot will operate through Jan. 3 to help with the holiday travel rush. “It was very much so experimental.”

The airport rolled out the kiss-and-fly lot last week. Flashing road signs direct drivers approaching on Wilkinson Boulevard to the lot on Harlee Avenue, at the intersection with Old Dowd Road. There, next to the Long-Term Lot 4, drivers can drop a passenger off, turn around and leave without having to drive past the terminal.

A shuttle picks up fliers and takes them to the terminal. Arriving passengers can also be picked up in the kiss-and-fly lot by taking the shuttle there from the terminal.

But some drivers are apparently confused by the new directions. On Monday, about a dozen workers waved flags and directed travelers into the mostly empty gravel lot. Several tried to park and leave their cars, until workers told them they weren’t in a long-term parking lot.

“Why didn’t you tell us we couldn’t park here?” one woman yelled, before leaving the lot and driving to park elsewhere. Two other cars with confused motorists soon followed her out of the lot.

Parking at Charlotte Douglas is at a premium this year, because construction has taken out thousands of spaces that were previously available. To build the new $120 million hourly parking decks in front of the terminal, workers tore down the old hourly decks, removing about 4,000 spots in the process.

Going through the holiday season without the hourly decks has been “challenging,” interim aviation director Brent Cagle said last week at a meeting of the Charlotte Airport Commission.

As a consequence, Charlotte Douglas has about 22,000 parking spaces, down from about 26,000 in previous years. The new hourly decks are set to open in November 2014, in time for next year’s holiday season. Charlotte Douglas is also building a second business valet parking garage, at an estimated cost of $50 million.

By the end of next year, Charlotte Douglas expects to be up to about 28,000 parking spaces. But that might not relieve congestion.

Construction on a new, eight-lane road in front of the terminal for arrivals and departures is expected to begin as early as March. That will require shifting traffic between new and old stretches of the road, for a project that could take 2 1/2 years.

Judon said the Christmas rush is different from the Thanksgiving rush because traffic is more spread out, with fewer big spikes. Travelers are also more likely to leave for a week or more, instead of taking three- or four-day trips. He expects the airport’s busiest upcoming days to be Thursday and Friday, when returning travelers flood Charlotte Douglas.

The airport will decide whether to extend the kiss-and-fly lot after the holidays. By removing cars from the road in front of the terminal, Judon said, kiss-and-fly could be a tool to help manage congestion. The airport hopes the service catches on.

“We think it’s important to communicate that it’s out there, and hopefully to change people’s perceptions,” Judon said.

Portillo: 704-358-5041; Twitter: @ESPortillo
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