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Flying from Charlotte for Thanksgiving? Get ready for packed parking lots and long lines

If you’re flying from Charlotte this week, get ready for long security lines, crowded parking lots and plenty of traffic.

And Charlotte Douglas International Airport officials have another message: Make sure you leave your guns at home before heading through security.

Aviation officials are gearing up for Thanksgiving and bringing on extra workers for what’s typically the airport’s busiest time of the year. Charlotte Douglas officials say they are expecting a 2 percent to 4 percent increase in the number of passengers going through security checkpoints this year compared to the holiday season last year.

“Come prepared and come early,” said Jack Christine, deputy aviation director. “The traffic on the curb front will be very, very heavy. … We want people to understand parking will be at a premium.”

The airport’s busiest day for departing passengers before Thanksgiving will likely be Wednesday, with an estimated 28,180 local travelers. That’s up from 25,964 the same day last year. Tuesday will likely see a similar number of travelers.

The Saturday and Sunday after Thanksgiving will also be heavy travel days, with the single busiest day all week projected to be Sunday. That’s when 28,500 passengers will pass through the checkpoints on their way home. And those numbers are in addition to the airport’s usual 100,000 or so daily passengers who travel through the terminal connecting between flights and don’t use the security checkpoints.

Here are five tips make your holiday travel as smooth as possible:

▪ Check parking online: Charlotte Douglas has added 700 parking spaces this year, bringing the total to about 28,000. But most of the airport’s four long-term lots (the cheapest) will likely fill up by Tuesday or Wednesday. You can see where there are open spaces and which lots are full online in real-time at parking.charlotteairport.com.

▪ Leave your guns at home – no, really: Airport officials aren’t sure what’s behind the big jump in people bringing guns to security checkpoints this year, but they said passengers who do so always claim they forgot the gun was in their bag. About 40 percent of those who do so are concealed weapon permit holders.

“You’re going to go to jail, and that’s really going to impact your holiday plans,” said Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Capt. Greg Collins. “When they get arrested, they’re just shocked.”

Kevin Frederick, the Transportation Security Administration’s federal security director for Charlotte Douglas, said gun owners should go through “every little pocket,” especially if they haven’t used the bag they’re flying with in a while.

▪ Picking someone up? Use the hourly deck: If you’re picking up Grandma from the airport, park in the hourly deck across from the terminal and walk to meet her, instead of circling the terminal road and adding to traffic. The first hour in the deck is free.

▪ Come early and use any checkpoint: The TSA recommends passengers arrive two hours early for domestic flights. Any checkpoint at Charlotte Douglas can get you to any gate, so use the one with the shortest line (You don’t have to use Checkpoint A to get to the A gates, for example). Checkpoints A and B, along with American Airlines counters and kiosks, will open at 3:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday and next Monday.

▪ Check the weather at your destination: American Airlines spokeswoman Katie Cody said the carrier will have up to 690 departures per day from Charlotte Douglas during the week. Although the forecast is pretty good at most American hubs, the air travel network is complex, and a storm in Buffalo, for example, might keep the plane you’re supposed to fly on from getting to you in Charlotte. Check the weather at your destination and sign up for flight alerts with your airline to get early notifications of any delays.

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo

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