Anxious CLT airport passengers complain about lack of masks and social distancing

Anxious CLT airport passengers complain about lack of masks and social distancing
(Source: David T. Foster III | Charlotte Observer)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Charlotte Observer) - As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in North Carolina, some passengers flying through Charlotte Douglas International Airport say they feel unsafe walking through the airport.

Travel through the CLT airport has started to pick back up. In May, the number of passenger arrivals and departures was just over 1 million, compared to 340,256 in April, according to the most recent data from the airport.

An executive order from Gov. Roy Cooper on June 24 requires face coverings to be worn in public. But CLT airport Aviation Director Brent Cagle said that while the airport will encourage the statewide mask mandate, it will not deny entrance to passengers who refuse to wear a mask.

Some passengers said they are upset with the lack of social distancing and mask-wearing they’ve seen in the airport.

Austen Kendall flew into Charlotte from Miami on July 18, and said he would have liked to have seen tape on the floors marking where people should stand to maintain distance. People in lines kept getting too close to him, and wouldn’t step back when he asked, Kendall said.

He said most of the chairs throughout the airport were back to back, which didn’t allow for social distancing, and he would have liked to have seen chairs spaced further apart.

“You have to stand next to people who’ve got no mask on or their nose hanging out,” Kendall said. “I felt like there was a potential for me to get the coronavirus.”

Responding to Observer questions about passenger safety concerns, the airport said in a statement Wednesday that it provides face coverings to those who need them, has signs throughout the facility reminding passengers to wear face coverings and social distance, and has added protective screening in CLT’s security screening lanes.

There have been 21 confirmed COVID-19 cases in TSA employees at the Charlotte airport as of July 18, according to TSA data.

Justin Bensan was in the Charlotte airport July 19 for a layover while flying from Pittsburgh to D.C.

He said he was shocked by how crowded the airport was, particularly at the gates. “It felt like business as usual,” he said.

There was almost no social distancing at the gate for his flight, Bensan said, which was not the case for other airports he has recently been to, such as the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Pittsburgh International Airport and LaGuardia Airport.

Bensan said those airports were almost empty, with plenty of space to social distance.

“In Charlotte, it seemed every single gate was just crowded with people, no matter when the flight was going to show up,” he said.

Bensan said he saw many people wearing masks incorrectly, with their noses exposed, or walking around the airport without their masks while eating.

“I already thought twice about doing a layover in Charlotte,” he said, “and now I think I definitely will try to avoid Charlotte as a stopover in the future.”

And when he tweeted photos and his thoughts on what he saw, he added, “This was the first time I’ve been anxious in an airport this summer.”

SOCIAL DISTANCE PROBLEMS

Katrisha Paul, who flew from Charlotte to Westchester, N.Y., on July 10, said most people she saw were wearing masks, but the Charlotte airport was very crowded while she was walking to her gate.

There were so many people passing her that “it was almost impossible to social distance,” she said.

Paul said the American Airlines gate she was at was packed, and there were two other gates immediately next to hers that were departing within a few minutes of each other. She said she thought these gates could have been more spaced out to accommodate the crowds.

When she was at the Westchester airport, the seats at gates had been taped off so people had to social distance while sitting down. It was not like that at CLT, Paul said.

“There were a lot of people standing around, not wanting to sit directly next to someone,” she said.

MASKS ON AND OFF

Sandy Eaton flew from Charlotte to Boston-Logan International Airport on June 26 on an American flight.

Eaton said 20 to 25% of people she saw were not wearing masks in the Charlotte airport, compared to Boston, where everyone she saw had a mask on.

“Some people didn’t put their mask on until they got on the plane and they took their mask off as soon as they walked off the plane,” she said.

Several days after Eaton was in Charlotte, Charles Johnston flew with his family on an American flight from Boston to Jacksonville, Fla., and they had a layover in Charlotte.

Johnston said he and his wife felt it was not possible to social distance at CLT, because there were too many people crowding the gates and seats had not been taped off to spread people out.

“My wife and I did not feel safe in the Charlotte airport,” he said. “This experience has made us conclude that we probably will not fly again for the foreseeable future.”