Fears of holiday gridlock at airport prove unfounded

Charlotte Douglas International Airport was bustling Monday afternoon as travelers returned from Memorial Day weekend jaunts, but overall stress levels were lower than expected, travelers and employees say.

The airport – dealing with more travelers, fewer parking spaces, construction and subsequent shifting traffic patterns – was geared up for mayhem Monday.

But as far as holidays go, it was slow, said one security officer.

Annalise O’Hara, a parking attendant, said the biggest rush came around 2 p.m., when two busloads of people were waiting for rides to their parking lots.

“It was almost like Christmas” for a little while, O’Hara said.

But the airport’s decision to run shuttle buses from the parking lots to the lower level of the terminal, keeping the upper level clear for drivers who were dropping off passengers, made for quicker service, she said. And by 3:30 p.m. the mass exodus of passengers had tempered.

Frustration over the shuttle buses’ prolonged routes due to construction persisted, however.

“We travel a lot, and what’s normally a five-minute wait (for a shuttle) is now up to 15 minutes,” said Baronton Terry, head basketball coach for West Charlotte High School and a coach for the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League, a position that requires bimonthly travel for basketball tournaments.

Charlotte Douglas is down about 5,000 parking spaces from last year, while new hourly parking decks are being constructed. The new decks won’t be open until November, and airport officials have warned travelers to expect full parking lots for most of the summer.

And while the airport plans to replace much of its shuttle bus fleet over the summer, passengers and employees alike are struggling with a smaller fleet, as many shuttles have broken down.

Jason Sattler, who was waiting for a shuttle bus to the Long Term 3 lot, works for the Metrolina Association for the Blind and trains people with visual impairments on safe travel strategies.

Though some of the people he works with avoid travel over holidays such as Memorial Day, Sattler said that many don’t let it deter them. Because airports staff up during the busiest times, there are more potential resources if those with poor eyesight need assistance, he said.

As for his travel: Sattler, seated next to a large group of more than a dozen people outside the airport, passed on the first shuttle to his lot to let the group stay together. It was more than 10 minutes before the next shuttle to Long Term 3 arrived.

But Sattler wasn’t stressed. After all, he was fresh off a vacation in Florida.