Charlotte-Douglas International Airport Guide

Charlotte Douglas International Airport

N i c o l a / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Charlotte-Douglas International Airport is one of the nation's busiest and if you find yourself with some extra time and an appetite for food or retail therapy, it has plenty of restaurants and shops to choose from. Whether you're looking to sit down and try some local flavor or simply grab a quick bite, you've got plenty of options. And if you have some time to kill between connections and feel the urge to shop, you will find a variety of stores to meet your needs, from those selling sunglasses to cell phone chargers and gifts to take home for the family.

Airport Code, Location, and Contact Information

One of the busiest airports in the U.S. and the second-largest hub for American Airlines after Dallas-Fort Worth, Charlotte-Douglas International Airport (CLT) is also a civil-military airport, which means it is used for both civilian and military flight services.

Know Before You Go

The Charlotte airport is sort of a "hub and spoke" design, meaning that all the concourses branch out off of the main area known as the Atrium. There is only one terminal, so if you are making a connection, it will be easy to locate your gate. However, if your next gate is located at the far end of another concourse, you may have to do a lot of walking.

In 2019, CLT completed renovations to add more passenger pick-up and drop-off lanes and expand Concourse B, as part of a multi-million dollar plan. According to the plan, the airport will continue rolling out renovations to the terminals and surrounding airfield until 2035, so expect to see some construction.

Charlotte-Douglas Airport Parking

The Charlotte-Douglas Airport offers a lot of options for parking and it's even possible to see a real-time map of parking availability on the airport's website.

  • Business Valet Deck: A premium parking experience with a flat daily rate, you can drop your car off at the business valet and take a complimentary shuttle to the airport. While you're away, you can even arrange to have your car washed or undergo an official state inspection.
  • Curbside Valet: If you prefer to drop your car off at the curb, this option is a little more expensive per day than the business valet.
  • Hourly Deck: On the hourly deck, your first hour is free with a maximum of $20 if you stay the whole day. This parking lot is within walking distance to the terminal.
  • Daily Decks: If you need to park for more than 24 hours, the daily decks are a premium option with continuously running accessible shuttles.
  • Daily North Lot: Another daily lot, this is slightly cheaper than the daily deck and also offers a shuttle to the terminal.
  • Long Term Lots: These two-long term lots are the most affordable option. These lots are the furthest away from the terminal, but complimentary shuttles are available.
  • Cell Phone Lot: If you are picking someone up from the airport, this free lot is designed for you. You can stay inside your car while you wait for a text or phone call from the person you intend to pick up.

Driving Directions

Just 20 minutes from downtown Charlotte, the Charlotte Douglas International Airport is accessible from many different highways. You have the choice of taking I-85 via Exit 32 or 33, I-77 via Exit 6B, or I-485 via Exit 9 to connect to the Josh Birmingham Parkway where you can follow signs for the airport.

Public Transportation and Taxis

If you are not renting a car, there are a few ways to get to downtown Charlotte from the airport.

  • To get a taxi, look for the taxi stand at Arrivals and speak to an attendant who will hail one for you.
  • You can also take one of the green Sprinter buses that travel between the airport and the city center. Buses leave every 20 minutes on weekdays and every 30 minutes on weekends.
  • Rideshare services like Uber and Lyft are available at the airport with pick-up and drop-off areas on Level 2.

Where to Eat and Drink

The center of the airport is not only where departures and ticketing are located, but also where you will find the largest number of restaurants and shops. If you only have time for grab-and-go, head to 1897 Market, which is also a sit-down restaurant. Fast food options are Burger King, Chick-Fil-A, Papa John's, and Quizno's Sub. For a sweet snack or pick-me-up, there's Cinnabon, Jamba Juice, and Starbucks. For one-step above typical fast food, you'll find Brookwood Farms BBQ (traditional Carolina Pit BBQ) and two choices of Mexican—Salsarita's Fresh Cantina and Tequileria.

If you have time on your hands and are interested in more of a dining experience, the Atrium has some good offerings: Beaudevin (a wine bar with small plates, sandwiches, and salads), First in Flight Bar with Hissho Sushi, and the traditional restaurant side of 1897 Market, an "urban gourmet oasis" featuring a raw bar, carving station and grill, and wood pizza oven. 

Where to Shop

When it comes to shopping, you will find everything from clothing to electronics to jewelry. To refresh your wardrobe, head to Brooks Brothers or Johnston & Murphy. If you left your headphones at home, or want to browse the latest devices and gadgets, you have your choice of Best Buy Express, Brookstone, or InMotion Entertainment. For a selection of baubles and accessories, check out Brighton Collectibles, or Pandora. Just want to grab a book or magazine for the flight along with some chewing gum? Heritage Booksellers, CNBC Smartshop, and Queen City Gifts and News are your best bets. There is also a Duty-Free shop as well as Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory.

How to Spend Your Layover

For a layover shorter than five hours, it's best to stay at the airport and kill some time by shopping or perhaps having a leisurely meal at one of the finer restaurants.

For a layover longer than five hours, you can take a cab or one of the Sprinter buses into the city and cross some Charlotte attractions off your list. The nearby Nascar Hall of Fame is a favorite spot for families and art-lovers can also check out the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art or the Mint Museum of Art. If museums aren't you're thing, you might also enjoy a brewery tour at one of Charlotte's many local breweries or, if you've really got a lot of time to kill, you can visit the U.S. National Whitewater Center (just a 15 minute drive from the airport) for a day of adventure and physical activity.

If you have an overnight layover, you will not be able to sleep anywhere in the area past security.

Airport Lounges

Despite how busy it can get, the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport does not have many lounge options. American Airlines offers two Admirals Club lounges, which are located in Concourses A and B. However, you typically have to be a member or have a first or business class ticket on an American Airlines flight. You might be able to purchase a day pass at the lounge's front desk, but only if you are flying American or one of its partner airlines.

If you are an active or retired member of the military, you may be able to get into the USO Lounge. Located on the second floor of the Atrium, this lounge is free for anyone with a military ID and their families if they are traveling together. Here, you'll find complimentary refreshments and a children's play area.

If you're looking for something more private, check out the Minute Suites in the Atrium. Here, you can pay for an hour or two in a private room equipped with a bed. For an extra cost, you can even use the shower facilities if you want to freshen up.

Wi-Fi and Charging Stations

Free Wi-Fi is offered throughout the terminal and charging stations can be found built into the seat in all the concourses and gate areas.

Charlotte-Douglas Airport Tips and Tidbits

  • The white rocking chairs in the airport are very popular and on a busy day, it can be tough to find an empty one. If you see a free chair, grab it while you can.
  • CLT has two Mother's Rooms for nursing mothers. Each room has private stalls and is equipped with cushioned chairs, power outlets, and changing stations.
  • Pet relief areas can be found inside the terminal past security.
  • Curious about the art you see in the terminal? You can learn more about what's on display on the airport website.