If you’re flying this Memorial Day weekend, plan on arriving early at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
That’s what officials say, in the wake of long Transportation Security Administration lines and tales of missed flights from airports around the country. Travelers have been dealing with longer lines at Charlotte Douglas and other airports for months, a combination of more people flying, stricter TSA screening and, airports say, inadequate staffing by the federal agency.
The TSA now recommends passengers arrive at the airport two hours before domestic flights and three hours before international flights. Charlotte’s interim Aviation Director Brent Cagle said he agrees with that recommendation.
“We’re predicting there will be heavy demand on Thursday and Friday,” Cagle said. “Both days are projected to be very heavy.”
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More than 27,000 local travelers are projected both days – not record-setting numbers for Charlotte Douglas, but enough to cause backups.
In April, Cagle sent the TSA a letter complaining about planned staff cuts at Charlotte Douglas. Cagle said hundreds of travelers missed their flights during a Good Friday “fiasco” when wait times exceeded three hours at some Charlotte Douglas checkpoints.
The TSA removed its head of security this week amid the national controversy. At a congressional hearing Wednesday, the agency said it’s adding 768 screeners nationwide by mid-June, and has increased overtime at busy airports. The agency is also launching a command center to track screening operations.
“The American people are angry and frustrated as we head into the busiest travel season of the year, starting this Memorial Day weekend,” said Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas. “They deserve answers.”
I don’t think passengers should take it lightly.
Charlotte Douglas interim Aviation Director Brent Cagle on the advice to arrive at least two hours early
Cagle said Charlotte Douglas is spending $1 million on contract workers to help manage security lines, answer traveler questions and direct fliers to the proper lanes. The workers started last week, Cagle said. American Airlines, the airport’s main carrier, also moved its priority ticket counter last week, which Cagle said will help spread travelers around and relieve some congestion.
He said he’s encouraged by steps the TSA has taken so far, such as giving more flexibility for local overtime spending to bring on more security screeners at peak times, but said the airport isn’t in the clear yet.
“I would say we’re moving in the right direction,” Cagle said. “We’re still concerned about this summer.”
At Charlotte Douglas this week, some travelers said they have seen long lines at other airports. But checkpoints moved briskly Tuesday, a low-traffic day for air travel.
Dwayne Johnson was flying home Tuesday from Charlotte to Lexington, Ky., and will be traveling to Washington, D.C., this weekend.
“I am expecting a long wait this weekend,” he said. “You never know what they’re going to require. One day it’s take everything out, and they want blood. The next day you can leave your shoes on.”
He said he hopes the change in leadership will shorten lines for all passengers. The problems with wait times have been felt around the country.
Traveler Carol Jegou said TSA had one person working in all of Terminal A at Newark airport last Monday. She frequently flies to and from New Jersey.
“The lines were backed up so long that the plane actually waited because there were like 60 passengers … in the TSA line,” Jegou said. She waited in the plane for 40 minutes before taking off for Charlotte.
But she said TSA lines in Charlotte are much better. And other passengers seemed to agree.
“In Chicago, it was almost as bad as after 9/11,” said Al Magley of Lake Wylie, S.C. But he said he hasn’t experienced many delays in Charlotte.
The Associated Press contributed.