Over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go …
These days, getting to Grandma’s for the holidays means hopping on a plane — and that means packing your patience. Charlotte Douglas International Airport is the seventh busiest in the world. And that’s on a normal day. Last year, almost 250,000 passengers flew out of #CLT during the Thanksgiving holiday, so we’re offering you a guide for getting through the travel season as stress-free as possible. (Pssst … it involves chocolate, beer and a good old-fashioned rocking chair.)
Jodie Nicholes is a producer for the NBC Network who lives in Charlotte and travels often. “I’ve lived through a few incarnations at Charlotte Douglas, and it has definitely improved in the last 20 years, but I’ve found that spending a little more on the front end with some things saves time and frustration on the backside. Jodie says she highly recommends Curbside Valet (only if it’s in your budget because it doesn’t come cheap!). “It’s a whopping $35, but that means you can unload curbside with the help of a valet, you get a claim check, and off you go. When you land, you text your code from the plane, and 20 minutes later your car is waiting for you.” They’ll even wash your car — and perform a state inspection for you. Jodie says, “It’s awesome if you’re toting kids, luggage, toys, strollers and more.”
There are cheaper parking options as well, but depending on how far away you park, you’ll need to make sure to build in enough time to take the shuttle to the airport.
Jennifer Howard, Regional Vice-President with MultiVu, travels weekly and says she prefers to park in the daily lot for $20 a day. “You don’t have to get on any shuttles, and I can just zip over to the terminal.” She always parks on the same level of the garage so she always knows where to find her car when she gets back to town.
Jen O’Brien, a consultant, also flies out of CLT all the time for work and doesn’t bother with any of that. She prefers to schedule a cab or Uber to the airport. And she has some advice for your Uber driver when dropping you off: “As you approach the fork where splitting departures and arrivals, if you find a long line for departures, stay right and have your ride drop you on the lower level where arrivals are picked up.” Then, it’s just a quick escalator ride up to departures.
Security is your next big challenge — but it doesn’t have to be. Most frequent travelers have TSA pre-check. If you don’t, we’ve still got some scoop. If you find long lines, Jen O’Brien suggests asking customer service folks (who are often found at the beginning of each security line) which is the fastest. “They are there to get you through and will sometimes direct you to a line that may look longer, but will move faster. Trust them. They have saved me from missing several flights.”
Once you’re through security (as long as you’re not making a mad dash to catch your flight), there are some fun ways to pass the time before you board. The main atrium is great for people watching, and if you can find an open rocking chair, that’s the perfect combination. The main atrium is also where you’ll find some fun food offerings. Jodie says when she travels with her daughter, she often gets dragged to Dylan’s Candy Bar. The fairly new addition offers something for every sweet tooth. If you’re looking for more of a meal, the 1897 Market has bar seating, tables and to-go, and they offer decent options for every meal of the day.
Maybe more important than finding good eats is finding a drink. Charlotte McGhee, who runs a surprise travel agency that designs trips for travelers called Whisked Away, says while doctors advice may tell you drinking and flying will lead to dehydration, sometimes a drink is just what you need at the airport. “When you get through security, find your gate and still have two hours to kill … why not head to a bar?” she says. “You can exit the sea of harried humans to sip and exhale in peace. Flying during the holiday season is hard enough without depriving yourself of life’s luxuries. Do what makes you happy. Dousing yourself in liquor before a flight is definitely not recommended, as dehydration is real and can hurt in a big way. But one cocktail? A thousand times yes.”
In Concourse A (near Gate A29) you can get a taste of home. Last month NoDa Brewing opened a tap room there featuring 11 brews on draft (including the brand new Layover Lager), cans to go and an entire menu of food offerings.
Suzie Ford, the owner of NoDa Brewing says, “Not only does the airport taproom give us the opportunity to see our incredible Charlotte-based customers in and out of our city, but it also exposes us to travelers from all over the world, so it was a no-brainer for us!”
If wine is more your thing, Jodie loves Beaudevin. “It’s a fun wine and tapas bar tucked away near the duty-free shop. The food is fresh, and the wine selection is surprisingly good. They have nice flights for both white and red wine lovers. I’m a big fan of the artisan cheese plate and charcuterie plate. The smoked salmon sammie is pretty amazing too! The staff is great in here — relaxing atmosphere and you might see a celebrity tucked away on one of the couches during a layover! I’ve had several sightings over the years!”
Charlotte says, “If you need some comfort food, head straight to Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar in Concourse C. It’s easily the best food in the airport (though maybe not the healthiest), and it comes to you from local restaurant guru Frank Scibelli, who owns Mama Ricotta’s and Midwood Smokehouse, too — great spots in their own right!” Known for their tater tots and of course the burgers, this is a favorite in Charlotte, and now you can get it while you’re traveling.
If you totally forgot to pack entertainment (or get stuck waiting on a delayed flight), Jennifer suggests heading to Concourse A at the Heritage Books where you can find great deals on books. “My number one favorite thing about the Charlotte airport is the used book cart right by Starbucks in A, where you can get new releases at 50% off. I buy a book every week and have amassed a small library.”
Other things to know before you go:
The Busiest Days: The TSA says from Friday, November 16 (today) to Monday, November 26, more than 25 million travelers will be screened across the country — up more than 7% over last year. The busiest days will be the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday and Monday after the holiday weekend. Good information if you haven’t booked your flight yet.
The #CLTCanineCrew: More than 30 dogs make up the CLT Canine Crew. There’s Ru, a golden retriever; Annie, a Great Pyrenees; and Clarence, a Clumber Spaniel. The puppy posse is so popular, passengers tweet at the airport asking when and where within the airport they’ll be. Certified therapy dogs, different members of the crew trot through the terminals with the singular goal of calming down and cheering up stressed out travelers.
Stay charged: Part of the airport renovation means every chair in the gate areas will soon have two USB ports and every other armrest will have a wireless charging unit. So far, that’s only the case in Concourse A Expansion. So if you’re not on that concourse, either snag a seat at of the charging stations or don’t forget to charge — and pack — your mobile charger. Use the free WiFi at the airport — you’re not going to get spammed — or switch to low power mode on your phone and save your battery!
Getting home: Arrange a ride home from the airport. Let’s assume not everyone can afford to valet park. Last year, the Sunday after Thanksgiving was so slammed that people hoping to get picked up by Uber or Lyft waited up to an hour in some cases. The rideshare pickup location is on the arrivals level, but if you can have a friend or family member get you at the “departures” level, you’ll likely save yourself a lot of time and angst. If you plan to drive to the airport, get real-time updates at parking.charlotteairport.com. If you’re really a high-roller, the business valet deck is $14 a day and offers a shuttle ride, and you can even have your car inspected or washed while you’re gone.
Pets’ needs: Fido is flying the friendly skies a lot these days, so the airport has three designated areas to “walk” your dog: Concourse A Expansion, A/B Connector and Concourse D. There’s a patch of grass and even a fire hydrant to make sure your dog is comfortable enough to do the deed.
Follow @CLTairport on Twitter. Fun to follow whether you’re flying or not, this Twitter account has just enough sass to keep things interesting and loads of useful information. You can also look for people in yellow shirts — they’re either airport volunteers or people who like to dress like it’s spring in the fall. (The actual volunteers claim to offer Southern hospitality to more than 100,000 passengers daily.)
Keep up with the very best of life in the South. Subscribe to StyleBlueprint for your best “me moment” of the day.