Airport officials: Get ready for record-breaking crowds at Charlotte Douglas this summer

Officials at Charlotte’s airport are warning travelers this summer to get ready for record-breaking crowds starting as early as this weekend, as bookings for local flights appear strong for the next few months.

So what does that mean for the busy summer travel season? Long lines, full parking lots and the need for plenty of patience.

“We’ll see higher levels of local passengers starting this weekend,” said Jack Christine, deputy aviation director.

Christine said he expects the current record for local passengers – 34,607, set on April 7 – will fall in the coming months, possibly around July 4.

More than three-fourths of passengers at Charlotte Douglas International Airport – about 100,000 per day – are transferring from one plane to another and never pass through security checkpoints. But local traffic has been growing steadily, and Charlotte Douglas is regularly setting new single-day passenger records for the number of local travelers.

Here’s some perspective: In 2012, the airport’s single-day passenger record for departing passengers who went through TSA checkpoints stood at 29,539. That record was set the Friday after the Democratic National Convention, one of the busiest travel days in the city’s history up to that point.

To cope with the increase, airport officials offered travelers some tips on Monday:

▪ Get to Charlotte Douglas some other way besides your own car, if you can: Uber, Lyft, cabs, the CATS Sprinter bus, a ride from your mom – Christine said any of those would be preferable. The long-term parking lots, which cost $7 per day and are the most popular by far with leisure travelers, will spend much of the summer full.

“I guarantee you they will fill up multiple days,” said Christine. Although travelers will be able to park at Charlotte Douglas even if the lots fill, they might be pushed into the pricier business valet ($14/day), hourly ($20/day) or even curbside valet ($35/day) lots.

You can check how much parking is available at Charlotte Douglas before leaving home at http://parking.charlotteairport.com/. There are about 28,000 spaces total, and Charlotte Douglas is building another 800 long-term spaces that should be available in June.

And Christine had a strong warning for drivers tempted to roll up onto the curb or park outside a space in a full lot: If you do that, Charlotte Douglas will tow your vehicle.

▪ Leave your guns at home: No, really. A TSA official said they’ve already confiscated 23 guns so far this year at security checkpoints, almost all from passengers who say they forgot the firearm was in their carry-on bag. That will get you arrested and fined, as well as cost you the gun, and is guaranteed to ruin a vacation.

▪ Watch out for traffic shifts: As part of ongoing construction to the roadways around Charlotte Douglas, crews will be milling, paving and doing other work on the ribbons of asphalt that lead to the airport terminal.

“We’re in a constant state of construction,” said Christine. Signs and workers will be in place to help people negotiate the road work. “We won't be doing any if that work during the highest peak days.”

▪ If you’re picking up or dropping off someone, use the hourly lot: The hourly lot, across from the terminal, is free for the first hour. That means you can park there and walk to meet a traveler in the terminal, or help them carry bags inside. Using the hourly lot will help keep traffic moving in front of the terminal.

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo