LONDON – When we think of American Airlines’ global operations, few consider Charlotte, North Carolina, as one of the main hubs of the North American airline.
Today, a bustling domestic and international hub for American Airlines, 40 years ago had a somewhat of a more regional outlook when American hubs predecessor operated a handful of flights and only owned two gates and a lazy office with a few stale doughnuts.
Moreover, in the ’80s, no airlines, minus hubs like JFK, really did require gates; pre-9/11, customers could walk to the airplane and say goodbye to loved ones at the jets’ steps.
On the 25th of April 1982, Piedmont moved to Charlotte’s new airport, which, unlike its regional predecessor, had 25 gates, two terminals, and 160 plus daily departures.
The competition got intense.
The latest two terminals brought Charlotte on the global hub map and would eventually lead Charlotte Douglas to Become the world’s sixth-busiest airport counting 43 million passengers, and holding the title of American Airlines’ second-largest hub after Dallas.
The American departure board counts up to 650 daily departures from the North Carolina Hub.
A special guest was present at the celebratory event; Carolyn Baker, who is the second most senior flight attendant in American Airlines, was present to give a speech allowing everyone to join her on a trip down memory lane, recalling how much Charlotte Douglas has evolved from its early years as a small regional hub.
Although she has never worked for Piedmont, Carolyn started her flying career for Mohawk airlines in 1961. In 1972 Mohawk merged with Allegheny, which would become USAir in 1979. The latter merger is what would then bring Carolyn to Charlotte Douglas.
Baker, whose seniority allows her to choose what routes she flies, says she operates internationally primarily. She says that on a few occasions had to remind passengers to wear their masks properly and says the best way of doing so is the compassionate way.
Although, after all, she says, it takes a glance at my white hair and wrinkles for them to obey, “nobody says no,” she adds. “It’s their grandmother talking to them.”
“There are two ways of getting someone to do something for you,” Carolyn adds. “One is to come down hard. Or you can smile and say, ‘Your mask slipped.”
Two hundred fifty people attended the inauguration ceremony, including many serving and former American and Piedmont staff. Customer Service Agent Tammy Boucher joined piedmont in 1981.
“The days in which the new terminals were being opened, I was working night shift”, she adds” They had us over here stocking the ticket counters and the gates, so we could start the day,”.
Tammy recalls how quickly Piedmont had outgrown its previous home.
Vice president of the Charlotte hub, Ralph Mass, said the new Piedmont terminal had opened with only 86 departures, Denver being the furthest one. Piedmont had 410 Charlotte-based workers. American Airlines has 12,500.
Over the past 20 years, many hubs have faded into regional centers, but Charlotte, although not a financial center in the United States, was always, in the eyes of American Airlines, a wise investment to compete against another airport a few hours down south, Atlanta Delta’s most prominent hub.
Charlotte’s growth will not stop here, says Aviation Director of the North Carolina hub, Haley Gentry. A 3.1 billion investment is set to bring 10 new gates in the concourse and a fourth parallel runway in 2027.