CLT airport expansion brings new dining, shopping experiences to travelers
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Visitors to the Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) are now enjoying new food, shopping and amenity options.
The airport opened a new expansion Friday, Nov. 15 called The Plaza. It’s the most recent addition to the airport as part of its Destination CLT renovations.
If you’ve flown through the Charlotte Airport over the past year or so, you’ve probably noticed it’s been under a constant state of construction. That’s because the airport is undergoing major renovations to accommodate growing passenger traffic while addressing traveler pain points. The Plaza is just one of many projects slated for the airport over the next seven to eight years.
The 51,000-square-foot area is situated between the D and E concourses with two entrances — one right across from the E security checkpoint and one in the midst of the airport’s D gates. According to the airport’s Aviation Director and CEO Brent Cagle, Charlotte’s E gates serve approximately 23 million passengers annually and constitute roughly 50% of the airport’s traffic.
However, that area of the airport has also historically lacked concession options for passengers. There was also only one set of escalators down a level to the E gates. The Plaza is designed to help solve that pain point for travelers with the addition of another escalator. It has helped to open up the area.
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Keep in mind, though, that you will be able to access The Plaza no matter which concourse and gate you fly in or out of. The airport only has one terminal that connects all of the concourses, accessible by any and all security checkpoints. It is a bit of a trek from A, B and C gates over to The Plaza, so travelers with shorter layovers may not have time to enjoy it unless flying out of the D or E gates.
The Plaza has a bright and open feel with high ceilings and natural lighting. It’s separated from the bulk of Charlotte Airport’s foot traffic, which means the vibe is a bit more relaxed than the hustle of the rest of the airport. However, it’s still in a convenient location for anyone flying into or out of D and E gates. In the center of The Plaza hangs a beautiful rotating art installation called “Loops,” made by Los Angeles-based kinetic artist Christian Moeller. The commissioned piece was inspired by aircraft holding patterns that appear as white condensation trails.
New food, shopping and amenities
The five new dining establishments offered at The Plaza are Shake Shack, Auntie Anne’s, Potbelly Sandwich Shop, Bojangles’ and Wicked Weed Brewing. That’s the second Bojangles’ in the airport.
For locals and frequent Charlotte-area visitors, Wicked Weed is probably the most notable addition. The brewery is a local favorite up in Asheville, NC, which is only a short drive north of Charlotte. The 800-square-foot bar area at CLT being the first airport location. The menu features their own brews alongside standard beer, wine and spirit options. As someone who loves the original Wicked Weed up in Asheville, I’m extremely excited for there to be an airport location I can visit while waiting for flights at CLT. While the Wicked Weed in The Plaza won’t serve food, you are able to order Shake Shack from the bar or grab food elsewhere before settling into a bartop seat.
Shake Shack is another exciting addition. The CLT location is only Charlotte’s third Shake Shack (though a fourth is opening in town next year).
In addition to more food options, The Plaza also offers shopping opportunities and amenities for passengers. You can peruse The Body Shop (which sells my favorite lotion of all time), hit up the iStore or Charlotte Supply Co. for in-flight necessities or visit Minute Suites for some relaxation before you board.
Passengers have access to restrooms, a pet relief area, a “Mother’s Room,” and additional escalators down to the E concourse. The new space also has plenty of seating. There are scattered tables, booths and high-top bars throughout The Plaza. The high-tops also have charging stations.
The far corner of The Plaza has a lounge seating area where travelers can watch planes taxi in and out of E gates. While you won’t get a stellar runway view or a peak at larger aircraft (E gates serve primarily regional routes), any AvGeeks coming through will still enjoy the opportunity to relax while plane-watching.
While we’ve yet to receive an official opening date, The Plaza will also soon be home to an Amex Centurion Lounge. This new Centurion Lounge location will be one of six planned to open throughout the rest of 2019 and 2020. Charlotte doesn’t have many airport lounges (currently there are just two Admirals Clubs and a USO lounge for active military members) but this will provide another option for travelers who are Platinum Card® from American Express or Centurion card members.
Travelers who want to take advantage of the area’s dining options and amenities should make sure to budget the necessary time. While I didn’t experience any long lines or cramped spaces while there, that was also at 10 a.m. the Monday after it opened. I expect for The Plaza to be quite a busy area of the airport as more passengers realize it’s open, especially with E gates next door servicing the bulk of CLT’s passengers.
Future renovations to CLT
The Plaza is only the most recent renovation project completed as part of Destination CLT, a long-term investment in the infrastructure and passenger experience at the CLT airport. The airport also recently unveiled a new Concourse A expansion and completed a large roadway project to help mitigate traffic concerns while addressing the influx of rideshare app users at the airport.
“Our facility, by and large, is 30 years old,” said Cagle. “We have an aging facility…and we keep seeing passenger growth, so what we really want to do is focus on how we can meet their expectations for a great customer experience.”
Next on the docket is a terminal lobby expansion, which will help accommodate more passengers. Construction is set to start in December 2019, but Cagle explained that travelers shouldn’t worry about the project affecting the passenger experience much (if at all) during this year’s holiday season. However, as we head into 2020 and beyond, travelers who frequent the CLT airport will want to keep this project in mind. According to Cagle, the goal is to spread out construction over the next five and a half years to minimize disruptions to the everyday operation of the airport terminal lobby. Unfortunately, this does mean we’ll have to wait until 2026 to see the final results of this overhaul.
The new lobby expansion isn’t the only long-term project on the docket. CLT’s website lists nine upcoming projects as part of the Destination CLT effort, including the addition of a fourth parallel runway that is set to be located 1,450 feet west of Runway 18C/36C. The new runway will include two end around taxiways and is anticipated to be 10,000 feet long. Once completed (probably near 2027, according to Cagle), it will be CLT’s longest runway.
The overarching goal of Destination CLT to update the airport’s facilities for a seamless passenger experience while fostering the continued growth of travel in the region. By expanding concourses, updating the terminal interiors, adding new passenger experiences and increasing the airport’s capacity for traffic, CLT will hopefully begin seeing additional routes (both domestic and international) offered across multiple airlines.
“Our job is to make sure we’re not standing in the way of that growth by not having the facilities ready,” said Cagle. “And so what our goal is to make sure it’s never infrastructure that prevents airlines from entering this market. That’s really the goal of Destination CLT.”
Charlotte is my home airport, and I’m excited to have The Plaza as an option when waiting for my flights. Additional food options are always a plus (especially considering my love of Shake Shack), and Wicked Weed is an excellent choice for anyone needing a drink a bit stronger than sweet tea. I personally recommend any of their sour beers, including the Watermelon Dragonfruit Burst Session Sour that is on their airport menu.
I’ve been impressed with both of the recent expansion projects completed by the airport, and it’s obvious I’m not the only one. Charlotte Douglas International Airport was ranked 13th out of the top U.S. airports in TPG’s fourth-annual Best and Worst U.S. Airports of 2019 report — and that’s despite the multiple construction projects going on throughout the terminal and on the roadways surrounding the airport. I expect these renovations will transform it into one of the top U.S. airports for both domestic and international travel. My biggest pain point with the airport currently is that flights tend to be expensive, meaning I usually end up buying a positioning flight so I can travel out of NYC for international trips. Expanded route and airline options with the addition of a new parallel runway will hopefully translate to lower flight costs down the road (fingers crossed).
In the meantime, passengers traveling through Charlotte should take the chance to try out the shopping and dining options at The Plaza. It will definitely be my go-to spot from now on while I wait for my flights.
Featured image by Madison Blancaflor/The Points Guy.
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