The ‘Hell On Earth’ American Airport To Avoid At All Costs

After a clip went viral earlier this week, we look back at some of this airport's most damning reviews.

The ‘Hell On Earth’ American Airport To Avoid At All Costs

Image: Rich Taylor

We’ve long been on the lookout for some of the travel industry’s bests and worst. Take this business class layout with “coffin seats” or this first-class meal choice as prime examples. This week, however, we’ve uncovered a contender for the world’s worst airport terminal… and the testimonies are damning.

Inspired by an Instagram reel that quickly went viral over the weekend, our investigation of Terminal E at Charlotte Douglas International Airport — described as “hellish” in the poster’s caption which read “When someone says ‘go to hell’ but my flight just landed in Terminal E” — returned some brutal criticisms in a very short amount of time.

What’s So Bad About This Airport?

In short, there’s quite a lot that people have to say about this airport… and none of it’s good. Or, at least, very little of it is good and, for the sake of this article, we’ll be focusing exclusively on those less-than-positive pieces which represent a far higher proportion of the whole than this journalist has ever encountered…

While we’ll get into the specific issues in due course, one particularly pithy if punishing review from a seasoned traveller called Scott Smith does well to encapsulate the overarching vibe:

“I travel 2-3 times a month [and have] just short of 3 million domestic miles under my belt. This is one of the worst airports I have ever been through… in a word: ‘horrible’. No seating, no restaurants, filthy, very rude peopl… Avoid if you can.”

Scott Smith 

But what are the precise issues with this recently refurbished and by all accounts quite well-appointed American terminal? Well, let’s dive a little deeper…

The Fundamentals

The first function that an airport needs to fulfil is a simple one: it has to facilitate people catching their flights. Unfortunately for a number of people found mouthing off in the reviews we read, the terminal didn’t even make this task easy. Here’s what one flyer called Lynne had to say…

“At the End of Terminal E there are multiple gates and each of these gates have an ‘A, B, or C.’ It [creates] mass confusion and [is also] very tight for the small regional jets that operate out of there. In fact, the center gate Public Address system is a speaker on a pole and one passenger missed her flight because she could not hear where she was sitting.”


Others had similarly brutal things to say about the layout of not just the terminal but the entire airport. Stephen Bryant said this…

“This is the worst hub airport I have ever been in. There is way too much walking between gates. I arrived at gate C9 and departed from Gate E40. I walked over one mile and it took me 20 minutes of fast walking, including using their crappy moving sidewalks, some of which weren’t working.”

Stephen Bryant
An outside view of the airport in question. Image: Getty

People Problems

Even if Terminal E was laid out better, however, it seems there are a number of people-posed problems that make getting across this vast and confusing space even trickier. First, there seems to be an issue with crowding, as expressed by a US resident visiting family now living in New Zealand.

They went on to claim that “the floor [of the terminal] was dirty and smelled like urine”, but that’s not our focus for now…

“I am on a multi stop vacation, visiting friends and family for the first time in 4 years because my family lives in New Zealand… At the terminals, there were thousands of people but only enough seats for about 30 people per gate so hundreds of people were crowding into the concourse… it was incredibly crowded and a safety hazard.”

M Habenicht 

And it seems that this problem with overcrowding was actually made worse rather than better by airport staff, who apparently put themselves first when it comes to distributing the seating (or lack thereof):

“This airport is awful… [at the] place I stopped the employees were rude and seemed like they didn’t want to be there at all. They were just lounging around in all the passenger areas leaving no place to sit because they were being used by employees… but I got my flight and I guess that’s all that really matters”

John C.

Accessibility Is Essential

Perhaps the most damning of all these accounts, however, are those made by travellers with extra accessibility needs… two reviews I located seemed to bring out some pretty unpleasant issues around the way wheelchair users were treated. The first revealed a seeming absence of care or, at best, an apparent lack of resources for such customers…

“This is the worse concourse I’ve ever been routed through. I fly a lot… at least 45 flights a year. Charlotte has absolutely been a HORRIBLE experience. My mother, who is elderly, had arranged for “special needs” assistance for wheelchairs to and from the gates and down the jet-bridge [but] we didn’t get the wheelchair services requested!!! So guess who had to push her from Concorde A to Concourse E… Me!”

Jolanta M.

And then there’s this horrible account of a man who, thankfully, had his ow wheelchair but endured questionable treatment at the hands of TSA agents while using it…

“This has to be the worst airport I have been at. My husband is an amputee and is in a wheelchair. The TSA agent practically stripped searched him. They checked every aspect of his wheelchair and the cushion that he sits on. They were asking him to move this way and that way. The whole process took aver 15 minutes. We did not have this experience when we flew out of the airport in our home state.”

Deborah Fulton
TSA agents do important work but have always shouldered a bad reputation. Image: VOX

The Bottom Line

I’m acutely aware that some of the problems mentioned in this article may constitute one-offs, be the result of especially sensitive customers, or be the responsibility of airlines and TSA rather than the airport and its staff per se

However, there is, as they say, no smoke without fire, and my gut feeling is that a viral post calling out this specific airport terminal read in conjunction with a whole host of damning reviews which, frankly, were not hard to find suggests that the provision at Charlott Terminal E could do with a little work.

If anyone from the airport would like to contest this view or invite me across for a first-person look at things, my inbox is always open.