CHARLOTTE — For travelers flying out of Charlotte Douglas International, parking is more of a headache this summer: The airport is busier, and thousands fewer parking spots are available.
The crunch is because of construction that will eventually add parking but in the short term cuts more than 3,500 spaces.
Charlotte resident Rand Gordon, who often flies out of the airport for business trips, said he was caught off guard by the packed lots. Long Term lots 1, 2 and 3 were filled when he arrived looking for a place to park.
“If you’re crunched for time, you may need to jostle to get a space,” he said.
As part of the expansive construction project, the airport tore down two short-term parking decks in front of the terminal.
They’ll be replaced by a new hourly parking deck scheduled to open in November 2014. The $120 million, seven-story project will also hold the airport's rental car facility and bring total public parking at the airport to nearly 29,000 spaces — an addition of about 7,500 spaces.
The construction comes at a time of record crowds at the airport, said Jerry Orr, the city's aviation director. That has left many of the lots filled more often than usual.
To accommodate the change, travelers are pushed to the Daily and Daily North lots, the Business Valet Lot, or the Long Term lots located farther from the terminals, Orr said.
The most expensive option for airport parking is Curbside Valet, which costs $19 a day and lets travelers leave their car with an attendant.
Other parking fees range from $10 per day for Business Valet to $5 for the four Long Term lots.
To speed passengers between the lots and the terminal, the airport has added 17 shuttle bus drivers and nine buses. That brings the total to 64 shuttle buses.
People who are picking up arriving passengers can still wait for free in the Cell Phone Lot.
Pat Wardlow of Knoxville, Tenn., who flew out of the Charlotte airport for the first time, said she found the parking system organized but crowded.
“I’m amazed that all the lots are filled,” she said.
For travelers worried about finding a spot, Orr recommends the Business Valet deck because it guarantees spots. He said the best way to ensure a good parking spot is to arrive early, and pay attention to the signs outside lots that tell when they are full.
Other options for getting to the airport include private shuttles, taxis (which cost $25 to and from uptown) or the Charlotte Area Transit System's Sprinter bus service, which charges $2 to go between uptown and the airport.
The airport also has other parking competition.
Park ‘N Go, a national private parking company with lots in 14 cities, has opened a lot on Scott Futrell Drive, near Little Rock Road and Interstate 85. The lot has seen an increase in customers since construction began, and consistently holds more than 1,000 vehicles, said John Bona, the company's president and CEO.
He added that his company has hired four more shuttle bus drivers to address the jump in business.
“I’m sure the airport is glad we’re there to help accommodate the parking needs of the community,” Bona said. “It’s good timing.”