Jan 25, 2023 - Business

It’s not just your imagination. Charlotte’s airport is busier than it’s been in years

Charlotte Douglas International Airport

Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Photo: Paige Hopkins/Axios Charlotte

If you’ve been to Charlotte Douglas International Airport recently, you know that long security lines, packed parking lots and busy terminals are the new norm.

What’s happening: Traveler traffic has surged at CLT — and it’s now almost at its pre-pandemic levels, according to new data from airport officials.

Why it matters: Passenger levels at CLT plummeted in 2020 amid travel restrictions, stay-at-home orders and general unease over COVID-19. Airlines cut daily flights even at busy airports like CLT (the sixth busiest airport in the world for passenger traffic) because of low demand.

Airport officials now say CLT will be fully recovered in 2023 — a year earlier than anticipated.

By the numbers: Nearly 48 million passengers traveled through CLT last year, which is only 5% below the record-breaking 50 million passengers in 2019, per a statement from CLT Tuesday.

  • The 2022 passenger total is a 10% jump from 43 million passengers in 2021.
  • CLT saw 505,589 arrivals and departures combined in 2022. That’s down from 519,895 in 2021 but above 397,983 in 2020.

Between the lines: Business travel accounted for 27% of passengers in 2022, up from 21% in 2021. In 2019, business travel was 41% of overall CLT passenger traffic.

  • International travel grew to 1.7 million in 2022, a 73% increase from 1 million passengers in 2021.

[Go deeper: Where to eat and drink at Charlotte Douglas International Airport]

Zoom out: CLT is in the midst of a major expansion of its terminal lobby, a $608 million project aimed at transforming the airport’s entrance. Airport officials have said an overhaul is necessary to accommodate the growing number of daily passengers.

  • Among other improvements, the baggage claim and ticketing areas are also being upgraded as part of a broader capital investment project.
  • A subterranean walkway as well as an exterior 146,000-square-foot canopy will be added, too.

What they’re saying: “Throughout the pandemic, we’ve outperformed national trends, and we’re showing no signs of slowing down in 2023. The hub continues growing as more and more passengers are eager and ready to return to the skies,” CLT CEO Haley Gentry said in a statement.

[Go deeper: Definitive guide to CLT Airport — Where to eat, how to kill time and skip lines]

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