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Charlotte Douglas International Airport braces for thousands of passengers

The airport and airlines have made changes to give passengers confidence in the safety of flying this holiday season.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Charlotte Douglas International Airport is preparing for a rush of holiday travelers amid the pandemic. The Thanksgiving travel period kicks off this weekend, Nov. 21 and 22.

Airport officials expect some of the busiest days to be the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Saturday after Thanksgiving, with about 17,000 local passengers each day. 

The peak is expected to be the Sunday after Thanksgiving with 22,000 local passengers.

In addition to the local passengers, airport officials expect about 60,000 connecting passengers a day moving through the airport.

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“This is going to be a very busy place over the Thanksgiving holiday,” said Charlotte Douglas' Chief Operating Officer Jack Christine. “It already is a fairly busy place considering where we are in relation to recovery from the pandemic.”

While it isn't looking like the usual numbers the airport sees for Thanksgiving travel, it is expected to be the busiest the airport has been since the pandemic hit the area in mid-March.

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Last year, Charlotte Douglas averaged 33,000 to 38,000 local passengers the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Saturday and Sunday after Thanksgiving.

To accommodate the number of travelers anticipated at the airport, changes have been made to make the flying experience safer at Charlotte Douglas.

Face coverings are required while in the terminal, parking lots/decks, and on shuttle buses. In addition to that, all airlines operating at Charlotte Douglas require passengers to wear masks. 

For those unwilling to comply with American Airlines’ face-covering requirement, passengers may be barred from future travel.

Charlotte Douglas has posted signage throughout the building reminding people to wear a mask, social distance, and wash their hands.

There are 60 hand sanitizing stations throughout the airport.

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Cleaning crews are working 24/7 while passengers are moving through the airport. They are focused on cleaning high-touch surfaces like handrails, ticket counters, restrooms, and more.

The airport is using UV light, HEPA filtration, and bi-polar ionization to capture and eliminate viruses and bacteria.

Clear protective shields have been installed in areas throughout the airport, including 112 protective panels at four of the airport's five checkpoints to create separation between passengers.

Charlotte Douglas has also launched a feature to see the wait times at security checkpoints to help passengers determine which line may be the best choice. It can be viewed via their website cltairport.com and on their app.

“The concourses will be busy at different times during the day, and the hold rooms will be very busy where we have folks sitting and waiting for their aircraft,” said Christine. “So we’re trying to, A: Ask folks to be aware of that first and foremost, and secondly, as best as we can, everyone needs to do their part to socially distance within the building as they’re waiting to get on their flights.”

American Airlines gave WCNC Charlotte an inside look at some of the changes it has made to its flight experience to accommodate passenger safety.

It starts with a touchless system to check-in bags when passengers arrive at the terminal.

Passengers are reminded before they board to wear their face coverings and not huddle in groups prior to boarding.

Five to six people take about 15 to 20 minutes to clean the planes between flights, focusing on wiping down high-touch surfaces like seats, buckles, call buttons, windows, window shades, armrests, and handles on bin doors.

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The planes have a HEPA air filtration system that recirculates air every two to four minutes.

American Airlines also does in-depth cleaning on its planes through electrostatic fogging. Every plane receives this treatment at least once every seven days and sometimes more often. The fogging mist adheres to surfaces on the aircraft and gets into the nooks and crannies, like the creases of seats, to add a layer of protection.