Midwest squeezes into airport's Concourse A

Sep. 20--The arrival of Midwest Airlines in Charlotte this week adds another airline to the bustling airport's roster of carriers.

The two new daily flights to Milwaukee also have made Concourse A, where most non-US Airways airlines have gates, more crowded than ever.

Located on the west end of Charlotte/Douglas International Airport, Concourse A has 12 gates for eight airlines. A few carriers share gates, and most have increased the number of flights in recent years.

This year, Charlotte/Douglas cracked the top 10 for passenger traffic among U.S. airports, according to federal statistics. Roughly 1.47 million people boarded planes in Charlotte in May, a 12 percent increase from 1.3 million passengers at the same point last year.

While US Airways still is responsible for most traffic to and from Charlotte, its dominance has slipped from about 90 percent of daily flights in 2005 to just over 80 percent this year. Frequent fliers who regularly pass through Concourse A have noticed the higher traffic.

Andrew Martinson, 32, of Charlotte said he flies on Delta or Northwest almost every week for his job as a consultant for Accenture. His flights usually land on time, he said, but a few times the planes have had to wait up to 20 minutes for an open gate.

"At the end of a week," Martinson said, "you can imagine how frustrating that can be."

Delta has seen a 40 percent increase in its Charlotte capacity each day in the past year, said Susan Elliott, a spokeswoman for the airline. The carrier added a direct flight to Salt Lake City in March, Elliott said, and a fourth flight to New York City since then.

Delta leases two gates and sometimes uses two others leased by the city of Charlotte, said Jerry Orr, the airport's aviation director. The city gates also are used by AirTran and now Midwest, Orr said.

Not all non-US Airways carriers operate on Concourse A; JetBlue and Lufthansa are on Concourse D, which also has US Airways international flights. US Airways has all the gates on concourses B and C.

Concourse E is home to US Airways Express flights, but Orr said other airlines could operate there. None have chosen to do so yet, though, opting instead to join the crowd in A.

"All of them are growing," Orr said of Concourse A carriers.

Also, because many airlines park planes in Charlotte overnight and operate early morning flights to their hubs, the security checkpoint line for Concourse A can be long as early as 5 a.m.

While the presence of Midwest is modest -- twice-daily flights started Sunday -- it has pushed Concourse A almost to capacity. "We could squeeze in some (flights) in the off-peak hours," Orr said.

Otherwise, he said, "short-term, there's not a lot we can do."

Ultimately, Orr wants to build a 25-gate concourse near A where some the airport's rental car lots are now. Those would move into a new parking garage that airport officials plan to build near the main terminal entrance.

But that garage hasn't been designed yet and wouldn't be open for at least two years. Then the airport would have to design and build the new concourse -- another capital project likely to take at least two years.

Until then, travelers will continue dealing with the crowds and conditions in Concourse A.

Trewhitt McGhee, 20, graduated from Charlotte Country Day and now is a sophomore at the University of Mississippi. He said he's flown on AirTran, American and Northwest several times in the last two years.

Besides the crush of people -- "Sometimes, I don't even wait at my gate" -- McGhee said Concourse A seems more outdated than the US Airways concourses.

"It's kind of rundown compared to the others," he said. "The seats are kind of old."

Martinson, however, said that despite brisker business, Concourse A isn't as tight as other areas where much of the traffic -- and tension -- is from passengers trying to catch connecting flights instead of just leaving or coming home.

"I like the more happy feelings in A," he said. "It's just a more pleasant experience."

Concourse A Carriers

Midwest Airlines joins seven other airlines at Concourse A at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport, where most carriers have increased the number of daily flights in recent years.

Airline 2005 2006 2007

Air Canada 2 1 2

AirTran 7 9 11

American 20 22 22

Continental 13 14 14

Delta 17 14 17

Northwest 10 9 10

United 7 13 13

TOTAL 76 82 89

Source: Charlotte/Douglas International Airport

Jefferson George: 704-358-5071

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