A Warning About Tight Connections In Charlotte

I’ve had passengers tell me they’ve arrived at their boarding gate in Charlotte more than 15 minutes to departure only to find their boarding door closed. And I’m told by employees on the ground there that at least some managers are enforcing 20 minute door closes when no more passengers are boarding (even if checked-in passengers haven’t yet boarded).

This presents a challenge because,

  • American Airlines sells a lot of short connections through Charlotte. There are even regional jet connections allowable at 25 minutes, though 30 and 35 minute connections are common.

  • While many of these connections are doable, inbound aircraft can get slowed down in alleyways or while waiting for gates.

  • So the last few minutes can be the difference between making a connection or not

Charlotte Gate Area

As one American Airlines employee puts it to me, “managers at Charlotte are closing the doors 20 minutes prior to departure. Does not matter if the flight is going to Florida or Rome. Does not matter if you are leaving behind an assist passenger or a Concierge Key. Does not matter if it’s 1 passenger or 20. Does not matter if the tower gives the gate a hold. If a gate agent says that is not policy or disagrees, the agent is written up.”

A spokesperson for American Airlines, though, says this is not happening.

Our team members are trained to follow our boarding procedures which include processing the standby list at D-15 and closing the door at D-10. To be clear, our team members are not being advised to close boarding at D-20.

Charlotte airport rocking chair

Whether closing doors at 10 or 20 minutes, it is work being aware of the very short connecting times that some American Airlines Charlotte connecting itineraries have – and being aware that many of those may turn out to be unrealistic.

Waiting for ‘the next flight’ may be problematic for many destinations, though, as connecting times can get quite long and there’s often no room at the lone currently-open Admirals Club.

In Charlotte I (1) pre-book a room at the Minute Suites through their app (one hour is free via Priority Pass) and (2) consider the Centurion lounge there which can be crowded as well. Without these as backups I am sorry to say that Bojangles and a rocking chair just will not cut it. There is, though, The Club at CLT and the Gameway, the latter only available to non-Amex Priority Pass cardholders.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. CLT on AA only works for O&D. The connections are consistently unrealistic, despite what AA says. AA CLT are incentivized to be anti-customer/passenger and pro metric (D0). AA at CLT is like Hertz to be avoided, except as a last resort. Managnig the situation is pushed back on to the passenger. That’s OK, but I believe the ticket price should place that on the carrier, call me provincial.

  2. I was there last week and the Admirals Club was packed to the gills. CLT sucks and I use it as a last resort already. Far too many people for the size of the airport.

  3. I have encountered this…door closed early and even a gate agent holding his hand like a stop sign to passengers who had run like hell (from a plane that landed early but then got trapped in a taxiway and came to gate 20 min late) to make the connection. Was the last flight of the evening, so we all got to stay overnight in CLT.

  4. My last 6 flights into DCA landed early or on-time, but then had to wait 15-30 minutes for the gate agents to pull up the jet bridge.

  5. Minute Suites (at least employees at DFW back on May 17) can go to hell.

    Get room. AC blowing full blast straight down. It’s 57 degrees (I have a thermo on my bag zipper). Impossible to rest. Can’t adjust thermostat.

    Talk to staff. They say because of Dallas heat, DFW is controlling AC. They provided a comically small space heater smaller than a toaster which is of course ineffective.

    After an hour, wife and I can’t effectively rest. We leave. I happen to check other open suites and to my surprise there’s no air coming from vent in at least two empty suites. So my theory is they were hoping I’d spend on blanket rental.

    So, as I said initially, they can go to hell.

  6. @Peter, what does your experience at Washington National have to do with the story about connection times at Charlotte?

  7. Connection times at AA are a problem at all hubs. Sorry for the brain teaser!

  8. IF I have absolutely no other earthly choice than to connect in CLT, I don’t book anything that is less than 2 hrs minimum.

  9. Never book a connection anywhere under an hour (and I prefer at least an hour and a half). Been flying for close to 40 years w over 8 million miles. Never understood people that took pride in getting to an airport at last minute or racing to catch a connection. W WiFi everywhere you can be productive and otherwise use the time (even if not in a lounge) at much lower stress.

  10. P2 refuses to connect in CLT. Its a complete dumpster fire with AA. Sell 45 minute connections & shut the door at -20? Nice! Dont let biz transcons into the Admirals Club? WTG. Just keep eliminating any real reason why any frequent flyer would want to connect in CLT AA.

  11. How do they get away with the 20 min door closure without people throwing fits? AA.com clearly states 15 mins…

    Most flights start boarding 30 – 50 minutes before scheduled departure, but the exact time depends on your destination and plane. Boarding ends 15 minutes before departure. If you’re not on board, we may reassign your seat to another passenger. You will not be allowed to board once the doors close.

  12. AA station managers are hired off of the street and constantly threatened with termination. Some have never worked in the airline industry. They are paid much less than tenured and experienced customer service/ inflight employees. No one wants their job. A “revolving door”. I agree that the door should never shut early…ever. Charlotte looks like a refugee camp every single night. Hundreds of people sleeping on the floor……in early AM. A sight for sore eyes for early AM departing passengers. The bottom line is “greed”. Backslapping, unadulterated greed. (Some Captains will demand that last minute (last flight of the day) connections are boarded when they see the passengers “pounding on the terminal window and crying”. Kudos to them for being humane.) CLT, DFW and MIA are pure hell on a good day. Wait until the summer…passengers will be stuck for days or eternity. There are no seats or staffing. The incompetence at HQ is mind boggling.

  13. I have encountered even worse. Doors were not closed, but they had given my seat away and even though I was executive platinum, they would not give me my seat back and made me wait for the next flight. My flight was late arriving from Philadelphia

  14. Simply not true. Totally against the written rules. Making these kind of accusations would be more believable with specific cases/situations. Until then, lets continue to speak about the small crowded lounges…

  15. @AC – I agree with everything you say, but my preference is a 2 hour minimum for connecting.

  16. I’m always amazed when aa.com offers me a 30 minute connection on a regional jet to mainline connection. This means arriving at your gate 5 minutes after your next flight started boarding while facing an eternal walk from E to B/C. This is just setting customers up for failure and frustration.

  17. Why would the top executives at AA care about anyone? They get your money in advance, selling seats and connections that they cannot fulfill, collect their bonuses and fly on leased, private, corporate jets. They rarely fly commercial. They have personal chefs at home and at HQ. They have freebie vacation homes and yachts provided by the AA BOD for their personal enjoyment. It is worse than Russian ogliarchs. The ultimate pyramid scheme. They are intensely out of touch, greedy, lazy and think that everyone is beneath them. No class or intellect to speak of. As vulgar as it gets…..all on your dime.

  18. It is imperative to distinguish two terms.

    Minimum Connection Time (MCT) is the shortest time between flights that the airline will allow on a single ticket and accept responsibility for rebooking if you miss your connection due to operational factors, such as a delayed inbound arrival.

    The MCT is not any sort of guarantee or representation from the airline that you will make your connection, only that the airline will put you on their next flight if you miss your connection. The next flight may not even be on the same day, and you can be pretty much assured you will be in a middle seat.

    Sensible Connection Time (SCT) is the time between flights that a traveler ought to allow. This will vary with one’s personal circumstances. Flying with kids, for example, one would budget extra time for bathroom breaks and the like. Flying solo to an event that is not particularly important, such as your company’s quarterly team-building off-site where nobody will give you grief if you miss the first day because of a flight delay, then the SCT may equal the MCT.

  19. I refuse to fly thru CLT. Don’t care if the flight is FC and FREE. The place is a disaster snd the AA set up there about on par with 3rd world countries

    And our standard practice these days is a MINIMUM of 2 hours between connecting flights.

    Hate wasting time but hate missing flights worse.

  20. Seems to me that AA needs some work on organization. Last Saturday night the line for customer service was longer than the lines going into the planes. Our gate assignments – C7 – D3 – C7 – D3. And finally C8. Three hours late due the “weather.” One of the cabin crew confided in my (on the last jaunt) that the last change was due to a bad airplane – not the weather. But, heck who cares, we got to our destination and many folks didn’t.

  21. AA sells short connections at cheaper fares than connecting to DCA or PHL or DFW. If you live in the Southeast you’re pushed to CLT because the landing fees are cheaper. CLT is an unmitigated disaster. Moving sidewalks that don’t move. Aisles clogged with wheelchairs and people. Gates piled up at terminal ends and no room to load / unload people. If you design a worse airport for connections this is it. Taxiways are always congested. AA brings all flights in at the same time and then reshuffles everyone to leave at the same time. AVOID IT pay the extra $10 to connect elsewhere. Oh and the ground staff and gate agents are the least customer friendly of anyplace (except maybe DCA). They will strand you in a heartbeat. I have been one of those shut out at D20 on last flight on New Year’s Eve no less.

  22. I have had GAs in CLT and PHL shut the boarding door in my face as I was running up to it to make a connection. This, often after AA created unreasonable expectations around connections by giving RJs 30 minute turns at outstations and then dilly-dallying around causing late departure on my originating flight. Insult is added to injury when you hit CLT or PHL during a heavy bank and the taxiways and ramps are ridiculously congested.

    As a result of this happened three times already this year I have stopped taking anything less than a 90-minute connection on AA and avoid CLT like the plague. At a point of reference, CLT has 11 less gates than PHL and 2.5 times the total passenger volume…and people complain about PHL.

  23. So this reminded me of one of my more memorable gate stories. It was a few years ago and my wife and I were flying into CLT from different cities but connecting to the same flight. My flight ended up being a bit delayed and I sprinted to the outbound gate in CLT. I got there before the cutoff but the gate agent had already closed the door. And they had a horrible attitude – saying something like “the flight to DC is closed, go see customer service.” I called my wife, who was on the plane. She jumped up and told the flight attendant (who had already announced that they were waiting on some connecting passengers) that the gate agent had closed the door. The flight attendant was furious and my wife told me the flight attendant was on her way to let me on. So I told the gate agent that ” the flight to DC is open again.” He said “says who” just as the gate door opened and the flight attendant started ripping him a new one. I said “says her.” By now there were a handful of other passengers trying to get on the flight as well, and as we all walked down the jetway everyone was thanking me, offering to buy me drinks, and asking who I called to get the flight opened back up. I hope that something like that doesn’t happen to me again, but I it was pretty fun to see a gate agent try to be a jerk and get put in their place.

  24. CLT is best avoided. The connections to smaller SE and east coast markets are almost always tight. CLT is one, among many, of the reasons I’ve shifted 90% of my air travel away from AA. And I live in an AA hub city.

  25. I flew MAD-CLT-LAX on Tues 5/17 and was hopeful that my 2.30 hr. connection time would be enough for passport control, claiming my checked bag and dropping it off again at the transfer conveyor. Plus the endless walking upon arrival and then through that sprawling terminal. Loads of passengers all over, on a Tuesday afternoon. Thankfully, the gate agents were very organized and tended well to oversales and standbys. It looked like they filled every seat.
    As others have stated, I look for connection times of at least two hours on all air travel.
    (My MAD-CLT segment was up front and the meals were excellent.)

  26. I hope someone sues them. The contract clearly says “Boarding ends 15 minutes before departure.”

    It’s high time they stop these shenanigans. And drop checked bag fees, so that we can go back to when boarding was a pleasure, not the utter and very long hell it’s today with everyone bringing everything onboard.

  27. Funny…. thousands of people make their connections through CLT without issue every single day. When the gate agent keeps the door open longer then they are supposed to, the departure is late and the flight gets delayed. This has a domino effect, making that same aircraft late throughout the day and impacting the airline’s system in other places. Do you want the airline to run on time? Or should everyone wait for customers who run late, book overly tight connections or spend too much time at the “crowded” Admiral’s Club? You can’t have it both ways. Also, the more time an airline builds into its schedule for aircraft to sit on the ground, the fewer flight options we all have.

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