Here’s why arriving early at the CLT airport might not be time-saving for travelers

·2 min read
Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez/

As summer vacation plans begin for travelers across North Carolina, Charlotte Douglas International Airport will likely be a bit more busy than usual.

When booking a flight, most people consider how early they’ll have to get to the airport to get through TSA in time.

Mark Howell, a regional spokesperson for the Transportation Security Agency, told The Charlotte Observer that the general rule of thumb is to arrive at the airport two hours before your departure for domestic flights and three hours before your departure for international flights.

Howell warned that sometimes unforeseen circumstances, such as cancellations from the night before or equipment malfunctions, can cause TSA delays. However, there is a window of time during each day that consistently proves to be the most busy.

“In general terms, early mornings are usually the busiest,” Howell said to the Observer. “A good percentage of our volume comes earlier in the day.”

According to Howell, TSA traffic at Charlotte Douglas International usually surges between 6 a.m to 9 a.m., with another surge occurring in the “early afternoon.”

That estimation comes with an exception, Howell said. During holidays, the airport is likely to see a large volume of traffic spread throughout the day.

“You’ll see bigger peaks around holidays,” Howell explained. “We have the Fourth of July coming up, so obviously we’ll see some heavier volume around that.”

Before the pandemic changed the course of American travel, Monday mornings were usually the busiest days at the airport because of business travel. But the transition to remote work has slowed that traffic.

With the arrival of summer, the traffic at Charlotte Douglas International will be mainly made up of recreational travelers, Howell explained.

“We’d have a very busy Monday morning as people were coming in and out for business things. Now it’s turned a little bit more to be recreational travelers as opposed to business travelers,” Howell said.

With travelers trading in business for pleasure, those flying from Charlotte can expect Fridays to occupy a considerable amount of the airport’s weekly foot traffic.

“Around weekends you’ll see more volume than you would see (on weekdays),” Howell confirmed. “That’s because people typically start their vacations on Fridays.”

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