Charlotte Airport Chaos: New Law Lets Passengers Drink To Cope With Misery Of American Airlines Hub

Charlotte has some of the nation’s highest airfares. It’s a tradeoff – the city gets a lot more air service than it would support on its own. American Airlines operates a major connecting hub, and dominates the airport. With 68% of Charlotte passengers connecting, locals get a lot of non-stop options than their city would normally support – but little competition.

American likes the airport not just for its geography but also its costs. The place is cheap to operate at, but those low costs also align with a miserable passenger experience. The airport is a pit. And for me it’s also where connections go to die.

The airport wasn’t built for the volume of traffic it gets. The corridors are packed body to body with passengers. The American Airlines clubs aren’t much better, with the main one still in the old US Airways design despite a six month renovation (that didn’t fix poor kitchen conditions, either).

Typical CLT
byu/kentuckb inamericanairlines

This airport has some of the longest walks outside of Salt Lake City. Arrive on a regional jet on the E concourse and you can easily be looking at 15 minute walks to a connection, or longer when people movers are broken and they are frequently broken.

The physical infrastructure of the Charlotte airport simply cannot support its American Airlines hub operation. Yet solving would drive up costs – in a way that American Airlines would not abide. So, this:

What airport am I at?
byu/G1uc0s3 inamericanairlines

The airline sells 35 minute connections for those flights, too. It’s technically possible to make it from one flight to another even coming from a regional jet at E, where you first need to wait for your carry on bags to be delivered planeside (those Bombardier regional jets don’t have overhead bin space to fit a standard rollaboard). If you hoof it over you may arrive at your connection before doors close. But not always. It really depends on what runway you land on.

When it doesn’t involve those regional jets on the E concourse you’ll find 30 minute connections. To be clear: these are purchased voluntarily and someone like me knows what I am getting into by booking one. If your inbound aircraft gets caught in an alleyway, all bets are off. Or if your first flight has a short delay, your connection goes away.

Passengers, though, have new legal protections to allow them to endure the suffering of the Charlotte airport.

Three years ago American Airlines was trying to get the Charlotte airport to stamp out ‘to go’ alcohol sales.

Chief Operating Officer David Seymour shared the plan for what’s next: getting government to crack down on airport alcohol sales. He says that they’ve already gotten Dallas – Fort Worth airport to ban alcohol to go from restaurants. However they’ve been pushing on Charlotte to eliminate the practice, they’re “shutting down as much as they can,” but vendors there are resistant. That’s why they’ve engaged their government affairs team “trying to crack down.”

Now airport vendors have state law backing to sell alcohol to go:

You can drink while ‘walking around’ or, I suppose, while rocking in a rocking chair. And you’re then more likely to bring that booze on board and serve yourself.

During the pandemic this was a huge problem because American Airlines (and other airlines) stopped selling alcohol in coach so passengers pregamed and brought their own to drink on board, despite rules to the contrary. That problem has lessened with the return of alcohol sales. But selling alcohol for passengers to take with them often does not end well.

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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Comments

  1. Mean drunks ruin it for the rest of us. Im a sweett drunk. It amazes me the diffrent life experiences of diffrent flight attendants cause widely varying judgments of how much is too much. Anyway, I’m for to go drinks.

  2. I have been in CLT for more than 20 years… It just seems like they put a bandaid here and there and nothing seems to be improved. The old Usairways ran for the most part good but this new AA is a complete disaster! The main reason why AA is poorly ran is due to them hiring managers that seem to be right out of high school… Little to no experience in the airline industry thus results in the choas passengers endure daily. Employees are controlled by what AA call allocators.. Assigning them to multiple tasks back to back to back flights in the extreme heat! Many have passed out!!!! The terminal isn’t designed for the capacity of flights it has… CLT never was an airport to handle over 700+ flights. There are many many issues with this outdated airport and how the main airline is managed. Many paying passengers are left behind all due to the short amount of time they are given to make their flights… Multiple on the ground gate changes disrupts the operation and irritates passengers who literally have to run to make their connecting flight!!!

  3. The basic reality is that AA on its own tried to build separate hubs at BNA and RDU and closed them and then used the only redeeming factor of a merger with USAirways (or the other way around) to provide a viable competitor to ATL by growing CLT which is a booming city.

    The current ATL terminal and runway layouts were built 45 years ago but is still the gold standard for efficiency and the ability to move passengers at an enormous rate.

    AA cannot and will not spend the money to fix CLT or DFW which was also not designed to connect the number of passengers it carries.

    AA’s operation at CLT is the best advertisement for DL at ATL.

  4. On the other hand…………….#ONE Airport in US of A has to be PDX!!!!

    Beautiful, clean, large, renovated!! Best news is ALL foods, drinks, alcohol….have the SAME EXACT pricing as they do on the streets of Portland!!! THey don’t hike it up by 2 to 4 times the cost because your at the airport.

  5. Sounds like the OLD DTW airport before the new one was built. Yuck.
    The long walks at airports have gotten worse. ATL has the train between concourses- but the concourses require a long, long walk. The new international terminal at BOS requires a long long walk, and arriving at distant gate the walk to customs is really long.
    The airlines sell the short connections because that moves the flight higher in algorithms , but as many have noted it requires every detail to be perfect. Even with perfection, if you are seated in back of your inbound flight, or need to use a restroom, all bets are off. I used to travel by air often. Now using my little RV for some vacations. Smh

  6. Madrid Barajas Terminal 4 is almost 20 years old and still looks brand new.
    Maybe the US government should cut off money to useless countries and people and actually make airports that work.

  7. The crappy CLT experience starts before you even get to the curb. It needs a rail or some other way of getting to the airport besides car.

  8. Personally I don’t understand
    understand the complaints about DEN. Compared to the old Stapleton, the current airport is so much nicer.

  9. This is my home airport and the construction is sad and poorly thought out. Even spending billions they didn’t even consider adding Clear…and they will not even consider it until 2027 or 2028 per Twitter post. WOW!
    Just visit the AMEX club and get out of the main areas. The AA clubs are super DUMPS…even the one in Bravo. Oh, and the inbound traffic is a nightmare on most days…

  10. Originally, with the merger it was neck and neck for the worst hub airport. But, to their credit, PHL – both the city and AA – took the bull by the horns and have made major strides. CLT now stands as the absolute worst and a total disgrace. As noted, the city (and AA with low costs) is taking advantage of a gravy train while doing little, if anything, to remedy the situation.

    As a sidebar, as the government sticks their unwanted bureaucratic nose into airline operations, they should turn some major attention to the published connecting times – especially at places like CLT.

    In summary, this place is a nightmare and to be avoided if at all possible.

  11. I’ve had an AAdvantage Account since 1988 and have been elite for many years. Until this June I had avoided CLT altogether . But a business trip to Charlotte made it hard to avoid

    It is as bad as people say. Charlotte created this monster because the city wanted to have an outsized airport for a city of its size. Fifty years ago the city boosters were putting themselves in the same league as Atlanta.

    The cheap costs to operate there and the lack of incentive to make the real improvements- such as an entirely new airport- make CLT a blight for the city not a marvel of air travel. AA would have to spend too much money so status quo won’t change.

  12. Reminder you cannot take alcohol on-board to drink in the plane, you can only drink what is served by the crew on-board.

  13. Great idea…give alcohol in to go cups so people can get drunk & board flights to then be a problem for all to endure in an even more cramped tube in the air. Brilliant. I see no future problems ahead.

  14. One of US’ worst airports.. ! Connecting flights are a disaster. Poor or non -existent customer service.

  15. So, AA is what causes all the misery because the operate 68% of the fights. The other airlines with 32% have nothing to do with the misery. Come on, I am not a shill for AA but every airport has it’s share of misery.
    It is getting harder and harder to read your blog.

  16. We left from BWI knowing we were to have a 3 hour layover in Charlotte changing plans to eventually get to Vancouver. While being pushed and shoved to get to the next gate, there was no where to sit. We were then told there would be an additional two hour delay as they didn’t have a captain/pilot to fly the plane…now two hour wait or five hours in total. I told the hostess as we entered the plane, that I hoped American Airlines could at least serve complimentary drinks to the passengers. She could care less.

  17. Have flown between PIT and MEM via CLT many times in years when there were no directs. If connecting between a regional and a regular at CLR, never book without at least an hour in between.

  18. I agree with most of the people who comment about CLT and with your article. But is it really that much different than any other airline at any other airport? How many times do you hear this on flights…” uhh…folks…uhhh… this is the captain… uh… we’re early to the gate and we’re waiting on that flight to….uhh…board and leave so… uh… we’re waiting here for… uh…. about 15 minutes or so until…. uh… they leave”.
    Or in most cases that’s replaced with “they don’t have a crew at the gate to guide us in”. And then the update is another 20 minutes after the initial “15 minutes or so” estimate.

    I use CLT as a connection if needed because it’s 3hrs from my house and when AA screws up- and they ALWAYS do, I can usually rent a car and drive home. ATL is 6 hours drive to home and while it can be done…well, it’s 6hrs. Look, ALL airlines suck to some degree and ALL flying is miserable especially now with concrete padded seats and legroom for a legless toddler. AA is a discount airline disquised as a bygone days full service carrier. I expect krap service and a krap experience and they deliver on that expectation every time.

    The other thing you mention are airline lounges. I don’t understand that experience either because I refuse to play that billion dollar game of me paying yearly credit card dues to a krap airline for a lounge that’s more crowded and filled with more screaming petulant children than the gate area. IF I can even get in the lounge without waiting in a Disneyesque line. That’s a suckers game. Worse than “loyalty miles”.

    LOYALTY MILES!!! LMAO.

    I pay everything with a debit card. Zero interest, zero debt and I don’t help fund an airline and their country club mix, canned soup and recycled scones in a lounge filled with self important people and a line to the bar longer than my connection time. I can afford to fly so I can afford an extra $50 IF I have time to drink or eat. Give me a triple burger and fries over a fought over biscuit and strawberry infused water any day.

    Besides, usually those “lounges” are so over booked that I’m standing against a wall or sitting on the floor trying to fumbledik around with a 15 week old Pepperidge Farm cookie watching these important people fill their plastic baggies with peanut mix. Yea ok…I see ya big spender. C’mon man, just go to Walmart and buy a bag for $4.98. Have some dignity.

    Besides, as you point out, usually you’re sprinting from gate to gate or going to a hotel anyway because AA or Delta or…or… or screwed you on a connection. I usually never have time to linger in a lounge anyway. So $500+ a year for that “privilege” is insanity.

    I guess I would be a fervent reader of your articles if the airlines were like they were years ago and loyalty miles were worth something and attaining status was actually attainable. But they’re not, so flying is nothing more to me than getting from A to B in the least time as possible. They’re nothing but an overpaid taxi service to me. Keep your worthless miles. Keep your Uranus Level VIP status. Or Pluto or whatever they are. It’s all junk.

    F the airlines.
    And they’re goofy lounges.

  19. AA may only control 68% of the flights, but CLT is their airport. Was previously USAir’s and now AA. Every decision made in that airport must clear AA, and we know how bad that airline is. Hard to say, but true that PHL is significantly better than CLT in most categories. I have avoided CLT like the plague the past 4-5 years.

  20. I live in central NC. One hour from Raleigh and two hours from Charlotte. I have to travel to CMH four or five times a year. There are nonstops from CLT but not from RDU.
    But given the chaos at CLT, I would rather fly out of RDU and change planes. The new LGA terminal is paradise compared to CLT.

  21. Traveled through here a couple of weeks ago. A zoo. My first flight was delayed; my connecting flight left early? Moving sidewalks don’t. Despite having over two hours to get my luggage on my flight, they put it on the flight an hour later. Didn’t even try. They had two flights going to the same place an hour apart at gates right next to each other. No confusion there.
    I’ll take my chances on ATL or even DFW in future.

  22. Charlotte Airport and American Airlines suck. Spent my 73rd birthday trying to sleep on the floor because our flight was delayed from 9pm takeoff to 6 am. NINE DAMN HOURS! This included 4 gate changes and 5 time changes. Plane was hour late arriving in New Orleans, when we arrived in Charlotte we waited half an hour for a gate to open. Then inside found out our flight was delayed an hour and a half. No need to talk to American reps, three of them were taking care of a line of about 250 irate customers. At midnight we were told we could get hotel vouchers but we had to get in the line and get our own transport to the hotel. Thus, slept (maybe an hour) on a hard, stinking floor. At 6:30 am we took off for a 55 minute flight to Louisville. So American and Charlotte KMMFA…..you both suck.

  23. Ah, yet again, the American public faithfully wants it both ways: to be able to take their alcohol to-go, while still holding America’s airlines accountable for their inability to catch every passenger who smuggles alcohol aboard in a discreet to-go cup. And when these drunk yahoos become unruly and cause a flight to divert, inconveniencing everyone, including the airlines, who can we trust the public to blame? Yep, the airlines: America’s favorite whipping boy. America’s airlines: guilty of everything except transporting the American public without going out of business.

  24. Charlotte is a great little town. Just do a “reverse sort” on travel time and pick a flight with an overnight layover. These are usually the cheapest anyway. Rent a car, eat some southern cooking, visit a brewpub, spend the night and make it back in time for a leisurely trip to a bar near your gate. We did that recently on a trip to Barbados.

    Now the flight back through Miami was the one where all the people movers were broken and we couldn’t believe how far it was from the gate to customs and immigration–I think it was about a half mile.

  25. Hi Gary. Since I live near GSP, 90% of the time I connect through CLT. E to mostly C and sometimes God forbid B. It’s such a cluster and a trip back in time, jogging with my hand delivered carryon which takes forever to retrieve unless in F. The lack of a taxiway on the north side turns a 25 minute trip to the already baked in hour and ten when flying into E.

    All terminals other than D and the new A, while recently “modernized” are still way too narrow. They need to figure out a more efficient gate seating layout to somehow widen the walkways.

    I know, easier said than done but I wish they put their efforts into this and the brutal security lines. We need Clear there although that doesn’t help at other airports recently, such as Denver and Seattle.

    I digress.

    CLT is an absolute mess and continues to get more and more crowded. This spring and summer have been ridiculous. It makes me want to connect via DFW even if the connection is longer.

  26. I’ve been pouring my free bloody Mary’s from the Delta lounges into to go coffee cups for a couple of decades now. Walk right onto the plane with no issues. 🙂

  27. Lived in CLT since 1979 watched the airport and city grow from a backwater stop, to a nice size in late 80’s to a mess today!

    Why wasn’t a separate Arrivals/Departure/Terminal2?added to the A expansion for all airlines except AA? Now with A having phase 2 almost open it will be over a mile walk to get luggage? Walking inside all concourses it’s just under 3mi a lap.
    The arrival and departure lanes for busses and cars need to be expanded, 2 lanes in and only one out! One accident and it’s gridlock for hours!

    Future plans do call for rail access to the airport from down town but don’t count on it for another 10yrs.
    The diagonal runway 5/23 is closed but can’t be torn up for 10yrs due to FAA rules that time will soon be up!
    When that happens a possible whole new airport terminal could be built addressing all current issues and future expansion?
    Bag room is managed by the Airport not airlines and is in dire need of major upgrades but so far it’s only patch repairs and reconfiguring existing belts to the new expansion of arrivals.
    If a small arrivals and departure terminal was added to the new A it would have alieviated 30/40% of the pressure. One belt breaks I’ve been told can cause dozens of flight delays and thousands of missed bags, down times of one/ two hours is almost common!

    CLT is stuck between its growth and what to do? They need a whole new terminal, 100-120+ gates, how to implement it and keep the current terminal running while they come up with a plan then start the building while keeping airlines happy. Location is great but a clean slate option might be easier?
    They should not have built the rail terminal between the runways instead that area should have been the new terminal and when the old terminal is removed the 4th runway could be built in its place!

  28. We were there Saturday night agent told us to get our luggage went to get it lady at baggage said it would be 3 hours and we could not get back upstairs until 3:30am when TSA opened missed our flight and had to drive to one and half hours to get our luggage not happy

  29. I ALWAYS leave a 2-3 hour connection (minimum 1 and 1/2 hour) for flights connecting at CLT. Never been a problem. In fact, the old facilities for me mean walking between gates is actually shorter and faster than many other hubs.

  30. The best part of the airport is Wilson Air. I love flying GA into CLT. The gas is a little pricey, but otherwise the fees are very fair. CLT also has an excellent approach and tower control. It’s a very safe and well run airport and bravo airspace.

  31. My daughter tried for 5 days straight to get home on American all 5 days they cancled the flights, I had to drive over 2 hrs each time to pick her up and try again the next day. They force you to be there 4 hrs early as most days of takes 2 plus hours to clear the tsa lines and you need to be at your gate 1 hr early or you can’t fly. We called American to see if there was any way to get her home and they said either deal with it or go somewhere else. She lost her job because she bought an American Airlines ticket. 5 days on the last day she flew around the country starting at 8 am when she arrived at the airport she finally landed at 2 am the following morning. 5 days no hotel or food comp of any kind no apologies,no explanations nothing at all. Just come back tomorrow and we will try to get you on another flight. The planes are broke down daily and you are literally playing Russian roulette with your life everytime you step on an American Airlines Flight.

  32. CLT has been a hot mess the last few months. Fly into terminal E and fly out of A or B means doing the OJ Simpson (Hertz) through the airport. Often Flights from other airports have to wait to take off because CLT is too crowded, or upon landing wait for a gate. Lately it has long lines at the AA customer service counters, and the airport looks like an attack of the walking dead with so many people running every which way. I even saw pilots running through the airport on a recent Friday night. All that said, the food at the Admirals Clubs has improved although not as much as at some other locations. One Friday night in May many people wandered around the bigger club trying to find a seat and/or ended up eating or drinking standing up.

  33. Used to have to fly into Charlotte on a regular basis for Business. First it’s the obligatory 20 minute wait on the tarmac somewhere while you wait for a gate to open up, then the elbows to elbows when you get off. I didn’t really care about the prices as the company was paying but it was always so much more then other east coast cities. Thank God no more business trips there.

  34. And you think PHX is much better? I dont go through CLT much but I have had more missed connections through PHX than any other hub I go through. The fact of the matter is that all the old USAir hubs are crap. And the management of AA now run things the old USAir way. In the next recession (coming soon to the USA), AA will be the first to declare BK. They have more debt than any of the other majors. So if you think it is bad now, just wait…..

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