Charlotte airport prepares for big returning crowds Sunday

Some of the 1.8 million Carolinians who left home for the Thanksgiving holiday returned to the Charlotte area Saturday, but the biggest group of travelers are expected to come back to town Sunday and Monday.

The good news is they’ll find better weather conditions than when they left earlier in the week, and officials at Charlotte Douglas International Airport say they’re ready to handle the big crowds.

“Sunday is our busiest day, but we’ll also be very busy Monday,” said Katie Cody, of American/US Airways, the prime carrier at Charlotte’s airport. “The biggest group of people coming back home is on Sunday, but we get a lot of travelers Monday – along with business travelers on the first day of the work week.”

The prime focus of Charlotte Douglas parking Sunday will be the new hourly lot, with many people driving to the airport to pick up returning passengers.

“We’re really happy with the new hourly deck,” said airport Terminal Operations Manager Martha Edge. “So far, it seems to be working out very well.”

The deck, which opened shortly before the Thanksgiving holiday, allows people to park for free for the first hour. Edge said it is a good option for those picking up returning travelers, although the cell lot also remains available.

Charlotte Douglas officials estimate 20,000 to 30,000 people could be using the airport both on Sunday and Monday.

As of late Saturday afternoon, airport officials reported ample parking in the hourly lot, and long term lots 1 and 2 also were open. All four long term lots were full on Wednesday, considered the busiest travel day of the year.

A check of the ticket counters and baggage areas showed light traffic early Saturday afternoon. About 10 to 12 people were waiting in security lines, and there seemed to be far fewer people in the terminal than on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Better driving weather

Those who drove out of town for Thanksgiving late Tuesday and Wednesday had to deal with rain, wind and snow along the East Coast. That won’t be the case for the trip home.

Forecasters are calling for mostly sunny skies in the Carolinas and neighboring states, with mild temperatures. Charlotte’s highs are expected to be in the low 60s.

The N.C. Highway Patrol said it will have heavy staffing Sunday, and the S.C. Highway Patrol had most of its staff on duty this weekend.