Christmas travelers pack Charlotte airport despite COVID-19

Holiday travelers will return to the Charlotte Douglas International Airport in the thousands starting this week ahead of Christmas.

The airport expects to see the largest number of travelers on Saturday and Wednesday, and again after Christmas, on Dec. 26 and 27, according to CLT.

The coronavirus grounded many flights early in the pandemic and for months, travel slowed considerably. But during Thanksgiving week, 22,000 people started their travel out of Charlotte on a single day.

Charlotte airport officials expect to see between 30,000 and 40,000 people connecting through CLT over the Christmas holiday.

The spike in holiday travel comes even as health officials urge North Carolinians to stay home and avoid gatherings. Gov. Roy Cooper increased COVID-19 restrictions this month, imposing a 10 p.m. curfew.

COVID-19 levels in NC and Mecklenburg County have skyrocketed in recent weeks, showing a noticeable spike after Thanksgiving. Health officials worry there could be a similar or worse spike from Christmas, if people don’t heed warnings to stay home.

Christmas travel is more spread out than Thanksgiving travel, according to the Charlotte airport. So December may not set a new single-day pandemic travel record for Charlotte.

Parking, security wait times at Charlotte airport

During the pandemic, the Charlotte airport has launched several new travel features.

CLT travelers can now see real-time security checkpoint wait times online and can also book parking spots ahead of time online.

Passengers should book their parking 12 hours ahead of time using the online parking tool, according to CLT.

CLT closed all but one parking lot in March as passenger traffic plummeted. Ahead of Thanksgiving, the airport reopened all of its lots, CLT chief operating officer Jack Christine told reporters last month.

The airport opened hourly parking at the rate of $20 per day and long-term parking for $7 per day. And for the first time since March, the airport reopened parts of the daily parking deck for $10 a day ahead of Thanksgiving, Christine said.

American Airlines, the Charlotte airport’s dominant carrier, has also introduced a number of safety protocols for travel during the pandemic.

The includes a new online travel tool that allows passengers to easily find the COVID-19 restrictions of their chosen destination.

And travelers can check in online at home and use their cell phones at airport kiosks for touchless check in or to receive a bag tag for checked luggage.

The airport has reported a spike in air travel in recent months after a deep drop in passengers starting in March and April due to the spread of COVID-19.

In August, the number of passengers leaving the Charlotte airport surpassed 1 million for the first time since March. In October, the most recently available monthly report, nearly 1.4 million people boarded planes leaving CLT. By comparison, the airport reported nearly 2 million in February.

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Hannah Smoot covers business in Charlotte, focusing on health care, aviation and sports business. She has been covering COVID-19 in North Carolina since March 2020. She previously covered money and power at The Rock Hill Herald in South Carolina and is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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