In Transit

>> Thursday, February 19, 2009

On the inside, the Charlotte airport has much to recommend it. It has rocking chairs, free wi-fi (of which I'm availing myself right now), you don't have to take a bus or a tram to get to any of the concourses, there are people whose job it is to stand and help out bewildered travelers at each of the main concourse intersections, and there are even men's room attendants offering mints and free shots of Listerine. (Men's room attendants! Honestly, I can't remember the last time I had a men's room attendant--but I can tell you right now it wasn't an airport.)

It's the outside of the Charlotte airport that's a problem. Specifically, the air traffic it handles. The Charlotte airport has quite simply gotten too big for its britches. In the three times now that I have flown into Charlotte-Douglas this month, each time we have been held on the ground at our departing city to wait for a window to fly into Charlotte. Today, not only did we sit for twenty minutes on the runway in Norfolk, Virginia, waiting for Charlotte to clear us to take off (Norfolk had already given us the okay), but our plane was also ordered to slow down in the air and get in ten minutes late--again, to fit into a crowded runway schedule.

According to the Triangle Business Journal, Charlotte-Douglas handled 34.7 million passengers last year, making it the 30th busiest airport in the world. Not in the United States. The world. Wikipedia lists Charlotte-Douglas as the world's 28th busiest airport, right behind the Munich airport and London Gatwick. (It will be no surprise to anyone who has flown through it that Atlanta-Hartsfield ranks as the world's busiest airport, at least in terms of passengers.) In fact, Charlotte-Douglas handles more passengers every year than New York's LaGuardia Airport, which is where I'm headed from here. (More on that exciting development later tonight!) LaGuardia has JFK and Newark to spread the traffic around, of course, but I think few air travelers would guess that Charlotte is a busier airport than LaGuardia.

And all this busyness on the tarmac makes the place not a lot of fun to get to by car, and makes getting through security something of an Orwellian nightmare. Charlotte-Douglas is indeed best if you can fly in and out without ever setting foot outside, and at least once you're inside, the amenities help you survive the inevitable layovers from missing your connecting flights...


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