CHARLOTTE, N.C. With fewer flight delays at Charlotte Douglas International Airport these days, Democratic National Convention travelers probably don’t need to fret about long waits at the gate.
But that doesn’t guarantee the airport experience will be quick: Road traffic, long security lines and Air Force One arrivals or departures will likely slow the process.
“Once you get past security, it’s going to be like any other day,” said Jerry Orr, aviation director.
Charlotte Douglas will look different, though.
Additional security will blanket the airport. That includes extra airport, airline and Transportation Security Administration staffing as well as officials from other agencies. The extra manpower will make lines more efficient and provide stronger security, Orr said.
He declined to say how many security personnel will be on hand.
DNC travelers won’t be able to anticipate one timing snag – when President Barack Obama will be coming or going during the convention.
“One wild card depends on when and how many times Air Force One comes,” Orr said. “That usually puts a little kink in our operations, and we can’t predict that because that’s super-secret stuff.”
Orr said officials must close half of the airport’s airspace before, during and after a president lands or takes off.
“When you do that at most times of the day, it starts to get things backed up, so it’s kind of a trickle through the rest of the day,” Orr said.
But overall, Charlotte’s on-time flight performance improved significantly from the beginning of 2011 through the first half of this year, U.S. Department of Transportation data show.
In 2011, more than 19 percent of Charlotte Douglas’ departing flights and more than 20 percent of its arrivals were at least 15 minutes late.
Those numbers ranked Charlotte 10th and 15th respectively among the nation’s 25 busiest airports.
This year, Charlotte Douglas ranks among the top three for fewest arrival and departure delays, with 12 percent of its departures and 12.5 percent of its arrivals running 15 minutes or more late.
Orr attributed the decrease in delays to the runway added two years ago.
“As we get more adept at using that, we get better at dealing with our capacity,” he said. He also said continually tweaking procedures and schedules has helped.
Mild weather and systemic improvements, which include managing schedules and airplane capacity, have helped Charlotte get better organized, said Jean Medina, a spokeswoman for Airlines for America, a trade organization for the country’s main airlines.
“They’re also extremely focused on getting planes out on time,” Medina said.
And customer complaints aren’t the only reason airlines want to get planes moving. In 2011, Airlines for America estimated the cost per delayed minute at $75.27– or about $7.7 billion for the year.
But the airlines’ push to save money doesn’t mean convention-goers won’t experience delays to or from Charlotte Douglas.
Texas delegates traveling on ExpressJet Airline’s flight 4680 from Houston might want to bring a book. During the first half of 2012, the cross-country flight has been delayed at least 75 percent of the time. On average, the plane arrives in Charlotte more than an hour after schedule, data show.
Departures to Newark produce some of Charlotte Douglas’ greatest percentage of delayed flights, with nearly a quarter of all flights to the New Jersey city leaving late.
For incoming flights, San Francisco produces the greatest percentage of delays, with nearly 20 percent of all flights arriving to Charlotte late in 2012.
Orr said he hopes flights go as calmly and conveniently as possible during the convention.
“If there were anything we could do to decrease the delays or make everything work more smoothly, I hope we’ve already found that out and put it in place,” he said. “If not, we’ll jump right on it.”
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