May 24, 2022 - Things to Do

Definitive guide to CLT Airport — Where to eat, how to kill time and skip lines

clt airport

Photo: Emma Way/Axios

Charlotte is home to one of the best airports in the country.

Why? It’s easy to navigate between concourses — no need for a shuttle. Parking is more affordable than most airports its size. And, most importantly, we have some of the shortest TSA wait times in the U.S.

Why it matters: Passenger traffic continues to rebound, and Memorial Day weekend kicks off summer travel.

By the numbers: AAA predicts 3.01 million Memorial Day weekend travelers, significantly higher than the 2.41 million travelers in 2021. For comparison, 2019 saw 3.22 million travelers. 

  • Last year, CLT saw more than 24,000 daily local passengers (a passenger whose trip started at CLT) and 100,000 daily connecting passengers. 
  • Friday was the busiest day during Memorial Day weekend at CLT between 2019-2021, a CLT spokesperson told Axios. May 24, 2019 saw approximately 33, 600 local passengers; roughly 4,500 on May 22, 2020 and around 26,100 on May 28, 2021. 

Need to know: Whether it’s your first time flying or it’s just been a while, there are a few key things to know before a trip out of Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

  • Airlines: CLT is an American Airlines hub, but also serves a number of other airlines, including Delta, Southwest, United, JetBlue, Frontier and Spirit.
  • Location: The airport is located between Billy Graham Parkway, I-85 and I-485, so it’s accessible from Uptown in less than 15 minutes — about 6 miles west. The exact address is 5501 Josh Birmingham Pkwy.
  • Hours: CLT is open 24/7, but security checkpoints are open 4am to about 9:30pm daily. The first flight out is usually around 5:30am and the last is around 10:30pm. Retailers are typically open about 6am-8pm.
  • Map: There are five concourses — A, B, C, D and E — and a total of 122 gates. You can use any security checkpoint to access any gate. View the full map here.
  • Construction: The airport is a work in progress, so expect possible delays and new additions upon each new visit. [Read more: Charlotte’s expanding airport]

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Getting there:

  • By car: Most people drive to the airport and either get dropped off or picked up, or park in one of the onsite lots. It’s easy, but expect some traffic during peak times, especially if you’re driving through Arrivals in the evening.
  • By public transit: Buses No. 5 and 60 both go to CLT. The former’s route goes from the Charlotte Transportation Center in Uptown to the airport, and No. 60 takes Tyvola Road to the light rail stop. Like all public transit in Charlotte, the ride costs $2.20 and can be purchased onsite or on the CATS-Pass app.
CATS bus no. 5 goes from Uptown to the airport. Photo courtesy CATS

Destinations: From Charlotte, you can reach most major U.S. cities with direct flights. International direct flights include:

  • Caribbean: Antigua and Barbuda; Aruba; Bermuda; Bridgetown, Barbados; Curaçao; Nassau, Bahamas; Granada; Montego Bay, Jamaica; St. Maarten and more.
  • Americas: Belize City, Belize; Cancun, Mexico; Cozumel, Mexico; Guadalajara, Mexico; Liberia, Costa Rica; Mexico City; Montreal, Canada; San José, Costa Rica; Toronto, Canada.
  • Europe: Dublin, Ireland; Frankfurt, Germany; Madrid, Spain; Munich, Germany.
  • And more — see the airport’s full list.

Line hacks: No one likes wasting time. You can generally get through TSA in under 20 minutes, but it’s good to give yourself *at least* an hour buffer if you’re not checking a bag and 1.5 hours if you are.

  • Checkpoint E is my go-to. It’s worth the extra walk to avoid the back-up that often plagues checkpoint A if you don’t have TSA PreCheck.
  • Get TSA PrecheckThis will likely save some time in line, but you won’t have to take your shoes off. It costs $78 for a five-year membership, and it’s a much easier process than Global Entry, which has scarce interview availability.
  • Check the CLT Airport appThe app has up-to-date wait times, so you can see which checkpoint is fastest.
  • Be prepared. There are a few things to do to keep the line moving fast. Have your ID and boarding pass accessible; slip your shoes off and remove your laptop from your bag; don’t have liquids bigger than 3.4 ounces in your carry-on; and push all your items along the conveyor belt before moving onto the X-ray machine.
Charlotte Douglas International Airport, checkpoint E. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios
Charlotte Douglas International Airport, checkpoint E. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios

Parking: Parking is $10/day in the long-term lots with discounts available if you book in advance, and you absolutely should via the CLT airport website.

  • If you want to be bougie, go for curbside valet. For the convenience it offers, it’s worth the $35/day on short trips.

[Full Axios guide: How to get cheaper airport parking by booking online]

Best places to eat and drink: View all of the airport’s dining options. Some of my favorites:

  • NoDa Brewing — Not just a good spot for craft beer, NoDa Brewing also has flatbreads, sandwiches and more. Concourse A.
  • Rhino Market — Nothing beats a breakfast burrito from this local favorite. Concourse A.
  • 1897 Market — A little bit of everything at this centrally located restaurant, market and bar. Atrium.
  • Bad Daddy’s — Order the Carolina burger for a taste of home. Concourse C.
  • Bojangles — Charlotte fast food classic. Various locations.
  • Wicked Weed Brewing — Legacy North Carolina craft beer brand’s airport outpost. The Plaza.

[Related Axios guide: Complete list and map of Charlotte’s 30+ local breweries, plus the most popular beer at each]

Nothing’s better than a Rhino breakfast burrito before an early morning flight. Axios archives

How to kill time:

  • Explore local art. The airport is home to a number of public art installations, including “Interconnected,” the digital piece by Refik Anadol in concourse A, and work by NoDa artist Ruth Ava Lyons in concourse C. Do a self-guided walking tour using CLT airport’s site.
  • Mani/pedi at Xpress Spa — or get a much-needed shoulder massage.
  • People watch from one of the Atrium’s many rocking chairs.
  • Play video games at the world’s first video game lounge chain called Gameway.
  • Go shopping. Retailers with airport locations include Spanx, Tumi, The Body Shop, MAC and more.
  • Take a nap. The gold standard is Minute Suites, where you can nap, shower or just chill in peace. But it’ll cost you $48/hour. There are some padded benches in concourse E and some comfy chairs inside the airport’s many lounges.

[Related Axios guide: New airport lounge called The Club CLT opens today]

Perfect nap spot inside The Club lounge. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios

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