November 20, 2012

Flying? These 6 tips could ease the way

It’s a busy day-before-Thanksgiving at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, but no major problems are being reported Wednesday afternoon for air travelers.

It’s a busy day-before-Thanksgiving at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, but no major problems are being reported Wednesday afternoon for air travelers.

More than 25,000 people are expected to fly in and out of the airport today, on the day before Thanksgiving.

Long lines formed at ticket counters several hours before daybreak Wednesday, as passengers heeded the advice of airport officials to arrive early for their flights.

Security checkpoints opened at 4:15 a.m., and at 5 a.m., all four checkpoints open at the time had travelers lined up. But the lines appeared to be moving.

“It’s going smooth so far,” one US Airways employee said. “Hope it stays that way.”

The only problem Wednesday morning was for people flying to Chicago. Dense fog was being reported at the city’s two airports, and flights to Chicago from Charlotte were being delayed about 90 minutes. That could cause problems for travelers planning to get connecting flights in the Windy City.

The fog dissipated by midday, but the delays continued. At 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, significant delays also were being reported at airports in Newark and St. Louis.

Otherwise, however, the flight schedule was remarkably smooth. At 12:30 p.m., there were no delays of more than 20 minutes, other than the Chicago flights.

At noon, about 20 people were in line at most of the ticket stations, with similar lines at the security checkpoints.

The Thanksgiving holiday got off to a bad start for a few dozen travelers who missed connecting flights Tuesday evening and had to sleep overnight in the airport terminal. One woman, who had missed a connecting flight to New Orleans, said she slept well but is looking forward to making her next flight Wednesday morning.

The volume of traffic became heavy enough for airport officials to open Checkpoint E -- the newest security portal -- about 6:45 a.m.

At 12:30 p.m., six of the airport’s parking lots had spots available -- both of the hourly lots; Business Valet; Daily East; Daily West; and Long Term 4. Three other lots -- Long Term 1; Long Term 2; Long Term 3; and Daily North -- were full.

Long Term 4 had been full earlier, but space became available after 9 a.m. The opposite happened with Long Term 1, which changed status from “space available” to “full.”

“A lot of the people who we see this weekend are once- or twice-a-year travelers,” said Lee Davis, spokeswoman for the airport. “They aren’t that familiar with the whole process.”

Plenty of people will be trying to make it easier for you. The airport’s Davis, US Airways spokeswoman Michelle Mohr, and TSA Charlotte security chief Mark Haught said have extra personnel working.

Mohr said US Airways even provides dinner for its employees on Thanksgiving Day. “I always help serve,” she says.

For the people expected to fly out of Charlotte on Wednesday here are a half-dozen tips hat could make the Thanksgiving travel experience a bit easier:

1. Start at home

You can print your boarding passes on a home computer. “That will make a lot of difference,” Davis says. “It’ll save you a lot of time.”

And if you have a smartphone, you don’t even need a boarding pass.

“You can send your boarding pass to your smartphone, and they’ll scan it at the airport,” says Michelle Mohr, a spokeswoman for US Airways. “That’ll also save paper.”

2. Plan your approach

One of the biggest problems inexperienced travelers have is looking for a parking place. Davis says there are 25,000 parking places at the airport, and it’s enough to handle the crowd. However, some of the lots likely will be full by early Wednesday morning.

You can get real-time parking conditions at A map shows whether lots are full, nearing capacity, or have space. On Tuesday evening, for example, Long-Term Lots 1, 2 and 3 were full. “That situation is fluid and can change quickly,” Davis says.

If friends or family members are dropping you off, they can pull up to the terminal, but they cannot leave vehicles parked there. The airport tows vehicles left in front of the ticketing or baggage levels.

3. Pack wisely

TSA Charlotte security chief Mark Haught reminds travelers of the 3-1-1 carry-on rule. Liquids must be in 3.4-ounce (or less) containers. The containers must be packed in one clear quart-sized plastic bag. A passenger is allowed one bag.

4. Get there early

“We still advise people to arrive two hours early,” Haught says. He says the TSA aims at getting people through security lines in 20 minutes or less but adds: “Wednesday will be very, very busy.”

If you get through security early, Davis says airport merchants will have holiday sidewalk sales Wednesday, Sunday and Monday. Airport personnel also will be giving away bag tags periodically.

Or have something to eat. A new report from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine ranks Charlotte Douglas eighth-best in the country for “healthy airports.” Actually, Charlotte is tied with Minneapolis for eighth in ratings that look at healthy food options in airport restaurants. Newark ranks No. 1, and Atlanta is rated last among the nation’s 18 busiest airports.

5. Try Checkpoint E

“Many people think that if their flight leaves from the A Concourse, they need to use Security Checkpoint A,” Haught says. “That’s not the case. You can go through security at any checkpoint.”

Checkpoint E opened several months ago and features five lines – the most of any of the five checkpoints. “It’s also in a more open part of the airport, and everything seems to move smoother,” Haught says.

The TSA has relaxed screening rules and no longer requires passengers older than 75 or younger than 12 to remove their shoes.

6. Pack your patience

“We’ll have plenty of people to help, but let’s face it – Wednesday will be busy,” Davis says.

The TSA expects at least 25,000 passengers to use the airport Wednesday. Mohr and Davis say 25,000 passengers also will come through Charlotte Douglas on Sunday and Monday. “We actually think Monday might be the busiest day – up around 27,000 passengers,” Haught says.

That means the same patience you use Wednesday will be needed again when you return this weekend or early next week.

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