By George Hobica, Airfarewatchdog.com. Stranded at the airport? Turn that delay into a mini-holiday with our weekly guide to turning even the most boring aerodrome into your own personal playground. This week, we visit Charlotte International Airport (CLT), an airport that receives plenty of unwitting visitors, thanks to US Airways' fondness for routing passengers through its #1 hub. Things happen, connections get missed, and before you know it, your 45 minutes here turns into half a day. Doing a little time in the Queen City? Here's how you spend it (see Airfarewatchdog's daily list of low fares to and from Charlotte):
1) EAT SOME BARBECUE
It's North Carolina – try the pulled pork! Bypass the usual fast-food options at the centrally located atrium food court (convenient to all concourses) and get in line at Brookwood Farms for a plate of smoky shredded meat with solid sides like not-too-salty collards and macaroni and cheese. We've never eaten anywhere besides this delightfully solid local option at Charlotte; why bother, really?
2) KICK BACK, RELAX
Good 'cue at the airport isn't your only, er, cue that you've arrived in the south; CLT is famous for its long line of white rocking chairs that face out of the atrium. First placed there in 1997 as part of a temporary exhibit, the chairs, designed by a local manufacturer out of North Carolina oak logs, are now a fixture at the heart of the bustling hub. They're perfect for kicking back and catching up on your email or reading; laptop and iPad users will love the airport's free wireless internet service; just look for "CLTNET" on your list of available networks.
3) HAVE A DRINK
No need to drink boring beer; if you're stuck at Charlotte and find yourself thirsty, the Yadkin Valley Wine Bar at the top of Concourse C is a refreshing change of pace. The homegrown affair, the result of a partnership that’s fronted by the winemakers of North Carolina’s Yadkin Valley, showcases the diverse product (reds, whites, ports, you name it) of that idyllic region to both the seriously curious and those merely looking to wet their whistle. Didn't think North Carolina even had winemakers? Luckily, you've got plenty of time to sit there and get schooled. While also drinking.
4) JOIN THE CLUB
It's no secret that a lot of domestic airline clubs aren't what they used to be. (Paying for booze? Come on!) Generally speaking, US Airways clubs aren't the sort we're clamoring to get into, presuming there's one even available, which often there isn't. But this is Charlotte, the airline's home hub; their atrium lounge, between Concourses C and D, is worth considering if you're staring down the long end of a lengthy wait. A one-day admission is $50; they also sell 90-day memberships at the front desk for $120, though that may carry an initiation fee in addition, so ask when you buy. The club's main asset is more room to spread out in a controlled environment, though there are free drinks and, as in the airport itself, free wireless internet.
5) RIDE THE RAPIDS
If you're not just stuck, but stuck-stuck, you might want to consider leaving the airport for a little while; Charlotte doesn't yet have rail transport into town from the terminals, but it does have the next best thing – regular and reliable bus service. The ride on the special hybrid-electric Sprinter buses to the city center (here known as Uptown) takes just a little over 20 minutes each way and costs a mere $1.50. What to do at the other end? Plenty – NASCAR Hall of Fame, the cool and kid-friendly Discovery Place, to name two stops. While you sort all that out, we'll be at the Lobby Lounge inside the shiny new Ritz-Carlton (201 E. Trade St.) sampling from the award-winning cocktail menu.