Charleston airport sets new passenger record

Passengers at Charleston International Airport leave the baggage claim area after picking up their luggage as others wait at the carousels to retrieve their bags Friday. Buy this photo

Construction upheaval at Charleston International Airport did not dampen passenger's desire to fly in and out of the gateway to the Holy City during 2013.

Air masses

Carriers serving CHS

American/US Airways

Delta Air Lines

JetBlue Airways

Southwest Airlines

United Airlines

Passengers

2011 2.5 million

2012 2.6 million

2013 2.9 million

2022 3.5 million projected

Source: Charleston County Aviation Authority

The state's busiest airport set a new passenger record last year.

Nearly 2.9 million people passed through the airport in 2013, airport officials said Friday. That's about a 10 percent increase over the 2012 passenger total and up from 2.5 million in 2011.

"These are exciting times at the airport," said Paul Campbell, director of airports. "Our passenger traffic is growing thanks in part to the great publicity Charleston and the Lowcountry have received from national travel publications and from the great support of the airlines doing business here."

The airport is expected to see passenger growth of 2.9 percent a year through 2022, when nearly 3.5 million people are projected to pass through the airport.

The passenger growth comes at a time when the aging terminal is undergoing a $189 million expansion and renovation to modernize and meet expected future growth.

The Transportation Security Administration recently placed Charleston International among the top airports in the nation for the number of departing passengers. The airport is now a Category I airport, allowing its oversight agency, the Charleston County Aviation Authority, access to additional federal airport improvement funding.

"Charleston is no longer a sleepy little airport but the gateway to one of the top tourist destinations in the world," said Debra Engel, TSA federal security director. "We want every passenger to have a good experience, and one key to that is arriving in enough time to check in and get through the security screening process."

Engel urged passengers to arrive at least an hour early to avoid missing a flight because the airport is busier and lines can be longer, particularly in the morning and afternoon, she said.

"We don't want to see anyone miss their flight, but 30 minutes is not enough time," she said. Passengers flying out of Charleston with connections to international flights should arrive 90 minutes before departure, she said.

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.

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