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4 Charlotte airport changes that will speed your travel

Travelers line up at Charlotte Douglas international Airport Thursday June 18, 2015.
Travelers line up at Charlotte Douglas international Airport Thursday June 18, 2015. tsumlin@charlotteobserver.com

If you haven’t been to Charlotte Douglas International Airport lately, you’ll notice some changes this summer.

The airport just wrapped up an eight-year, $1.5 billion round of construction projects in May and is now preparing for a 10-year, $2.5 billion program starting this fall.

Here are four things to know before you go:

1. New entry and exit roadways. In addition to Josh Birmingham Parkway, it’s now easier to reach the road that circles the airport from I-85, I-485 and Wilkinson Boulevard. North Josh Birmingham Parkway, which connects the airport’s one-way circle drive to Little Rock Road and I-85, takes two-way traffic so that existing vehicles don’t have to detour on the Parkway to get on I-85.

2. More parking -- and cheaper for now. The seven-floor hourly parking deck that opened in November has 4,000 public spots. Travelers can walk from the hourly deck to the terminal. They can also park at the daily parking deck on the other side of the hourly deck, or long-term lots spread around the airport, and take a shuttle to get to the terminal. Together with valet parking, the airport now has about 26,000 public parking spaces, said Valerie Boston of land-side operations.

Parking at the hourly deck is free for the first hour, and then $1 for every half hour until the accumulated rate reaches $20, or the eleventh hour, in a day. Starting Friday till the day after Labor Day, that maximum rate is lowered to $14. It’s part of the airport’s appreciation to customers dealing with the past two years of renovation, Herbert Judon, assistant aviation director of operations, said Thursday. Daily deck rate is at $10 a day, business valet $14 and long term parking $5.

3. Faster check-in with US Airways and American Airlines. Still completing their merger, the two carriers that make up about 90 percent of Charlotte airport’s traffic rearranged their check-in kiosks and upgraded the technology.

Those machines are now in clusters of four, which made the check-in process three times faster than before – when they lined up and blocked the baggage weighing stations, said Katie Cody, corporate communications manager at American Airlines.

The kiosks now can print boarding passes and switch seats faster. When the airlines move all operations under the American Airlines name, possibly in the fall, the current US Airways kiosks will be able to print baggage tags the way the American Airlines kiosks do now. But travelers will still need to go to the weighing station before dropping off their bags.

4. Closer rental cars. Visitors used to have to take buses to pick up a rental car outside of the airport. Now, 3,000 rental cars are parked and ready to go on the first three levels of the hourly deck, a short walk from the terminal. Rental companies located in the parking building are Advantage, Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz, while Sixt and Thrifty are a shuttle ride away from the lower level of the terminal.

To accommodate the summer travel surge, the airport is adding personnel in traffic, parking and lobby management. As many as 28,000 travelers pass through on a peak summer day. Summer leisure tourists, compared to business travelers, tend to have more luggage, are more likely to travel with children and are less familiar with the airport, Judon said. Travelers in need of assistance can look for people with airport ID around door areas.

Once you’re accustomed to these changes, get set for more: In the fall, another round of construction is expected to start, expanding the road in front of the terminal from three lanes to eight.

Cao: 704-358-5384

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