Sunday, July 25, 2021

‘A disaster.’ NASCAR driver bemoans long lines at CLT airport as COVID concerns wane.


Jun. 5—A NASCAR driver found himself stuck in low gear with hundreds of other passengers at Charlotte’s airport on Friday, as pent-up summer travel demand and waning COVID-19 concerns led to long TSA lines and missed flights.

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“Congrats to @CLTAirport for the single biggest TSA checkpoint disaster I’ve ever seen this morning,” driver Tommy Joe Martins bemoaned in a string of tweets.

Martins drives a full schedule in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for Martins Motorsports.

“There’s 1 checkpoint open and it’s backed up from the E checkpoint all the way past the middle of the terminal,” Martins posted. “People can’t get in the building it’s so backed up.”

“And I’m precheck — showed up an hour and 15 mins early & made it to my gate 4 mins before boarding,” he continued. “Gonna be a lottttt of people missing flights this morning.”

With school typically out around this week each year, it’s a time for many Charlotte-area families to head out on vacations.

Randy and Dana Shope and their 6-year-old daughter, Logan, missed their flight to Newark for a family gathering and then another flight there later in the morning.

“We arrived at 6:25 a.m. for a 7:54 a.m. flight, which is normally fine,” Dana Shope, who lives in Fort Mill, told The Charlotte Observer in a phone interview on Saturday.

She later learned that 35 people missed the flight.

Passengers never made it to weddings and other events, Shope said she learned through conversations with other fliers at the airport.

Her family later waited an hour in line at the American Airlines assistance counter in hopes of catching the 11:04 a.m. flight, she said. By the time they got their names in, 29 others were already on standby for the flight, she said.

Another disgruntled passenger posted a photo on Twitter of a nearly empty Bojangles’ box: “So far the only positive about the Charlotte airport.”

Airport response

A TSA spokesperson on Saturday cited various factors for Friday’s checkpoint bottlenecks.

Passenger counts are climbing, in part because it’s summer travel season and because more people feel comfortable flying again as COVID numbers decline, he said. Airlines have simultaneously increased their number of flights, he said.

Some fliers, however, are failing to arrive early enough and have forgotten what types of items are prohibited in carry-ons and their pockets, he said. The more times the buzzer sounds because of a prohibited item, the more the lines back up, the spokesperson said.

In an emailed statement to the Observer on Saturday, the airport media affairs office said the TSA manages security checkpoints at CLT.

“Please note we also highly recommend that passengers check security wait times on CLT’s website or app,” according to the statement.

“Passengers can download the free, all-in-one CLT Airport app at the App Store or on Google Play.”

On Saturday afternoon, waits were under 10 minutes at four of the five TSA checkpoints at CLT, according to the airport website. At Checkpoint B, waits were 10 to 20 minutes.

Arrive way early, officials urge

At a news conference before Memorial Day weekend, CLT airport officials urged people to arrive at the airport at least two hours before their flight.

Memorial Day weekend passenger numbers were expected to near pre-pandemic levels, the Observer previously reported, citing airport officials.

Although North Carolina’s statewide mask mandate has been lifted, masks are still required on airport property and on airplanes, Kevin Frederick, federal security director for the Transportation Security Administration, said at the news conference.

Girl ‘brokenhearted’ over missed flight

The Shope family ended up spending six hours in lines before deciding to “make lemonade” from the nightmare, Dana Shope said: They left the airport and drove for a vacation to Surfside Beach, S.C., she said.

The family received credit for a future flight and hope to make it up north in August, she said.

“Our 6-year-old was brokenhearted about not being able to see her cousins,” Shope said. “She had a rough day. It was going to be her first flight to remember. She was so excited to see her cousins. That’s why we’re at the beach, trying to make it up to her.”

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