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CLT parking fees just another flying headache

Even with a huge hike in prices, parking rates at Charlotte Douglas International Airport will be comparable or less than they are at similar airports, officials say. But that’s small consolation for a whopping boost of almost 50 percent in rates – especially when the cost to fly is already high and leaving passengers with ticket shock. Some fliers already prefer driving an hour or more to other airports to avoid seemingly higher ticket prices in Charlotte.

Charlotte Douglas officials say the hike in parking fees is needed to pay for the rising costs of construction, improved service and running the parking program. The airport is in the midst of expanding its parking decks.

But parking is profitable. The airport brought in $42.5 million in parking revenues in fiscal 2013. That’s 18 percent of its total revenues. Revenues were up from $38.5 million in 2012 and $37.1 million in 2011.

That should bring a smile to the airport’s biggest tenant, American Airlines (which merged with US Airways in December). Airlines get 40 percent of the airport’s profits from parking and concessions. The airlines got $18 million last year, the majority going to US Airways.

Parking has long been a consternation for some fliers out of Charlotte Douglas, so it won’t be a surprise to hear renewed clamoring for more public transportation options. Light rail has been studied and dismissed as too expensive an option to the airport – at least for now. But a streetcar line from uptown to the airport is in the Charlotte Area Transit System’s plans after the Gold Line is completed. Right now, we’re talking a couple of decades away before that airport transportation alternative sees daylight. Sigh.

In the meantime, if you want to avoid parking costs and headaches, a Sprinter bus that went into service in 2009 is your best hope. The hybrid-electric bus, which runs every 20 to 30 minutes and makes fewer stops, is very well utilized, a CATS spokeswoman said.

A welcome change of heart from Blue Cross

Last week, Blue Cross and Blue Shield rightly reversed its policy of refusing health insurance to gay and lesbian households and canceling their family coverage in North Carolina. It was a wrongheaded move that embarrassed the company – and should have.

Company CEO Brad Wilson recognized that with his apology: “We should have more thoughtfully considered this decision, with full appreciation of the impact it would have on same-sex married couples and domestic partners,” Wilson said. “We’re sorry we failed to do so.”

The company no doubt heard an earful from stunned Blue Cross customers, especially since the insurer offers same-sex benefits to its own employees and is considered a gay-friendly company. The customers went public with the insurer’s actions, much to its chagrin.

The company had invalidated the policies of 20 gay and lesbian couples because language in Blue Cross policies defined “spouse” as “opposite sex.” The company planned to remove that language next year. Blue Cross officials said the state had advised them that under N.C. law the company was bound by that language. Last week state officials said the problem was fixable by filing an amendment to the policies.

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