Air travel is 'like an apocalypse movie' (free version)

Plus: Mecklenburg coronavirus cases fall for 3rd straight day; Most techies are working from home; David Tepper's hate mail; Can Queen Charlotte influence you to stay away from people?

Today is Friday, April 10, 2020. You’re reading The Charlotte Ledger, an e-newsletter with local business-y news and insights for Charlotte, N.C.

Editor’s note: This is a shorter, free version of The Charlotte Ledger sent to people on our free sign-up list. The complete version for paying subscribers went out 15 minutes ago. It included:

  • the full article about the effect of the coronavirus on Charlotte’s airport and American Airlines

  • a breakdown of price-gouging complaints against N.C. companies

  • an analysis of how many people live close to the newly restricted county parks.

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Charlotte’s airport remains open but is eerily deserted; ‘You feel as if you are the last man standing in all mankind,’ pilot says

By Shawn Flynn

Many planes are grounded. The parking lots are vacant. And the rocking chairs are empty.

On paper, Charlotte’s airport is the 11th busiest in the country and a vital engine in the region’s economic growth. But nowadays, it’s an eerie place that workers and travelers say looks like a scene from an apocalypse movie: It’s open for business, but there’s almost nobody there.

In a City Council committee meeting Thursday, aviation director Brent Cagle said the number of passengers has plunged 90-95% and he’s not sure when they might return. “Optimistically, we might start to recover in six months,” he said. “Pessimistically, it could be significantly longer than that.”

Airport workers, airline employees and security are still showing up, of course. And there are even a small number of travelers — some on business and others who are responding to the crisis or helping a friend or family member in need.

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New Mecklenburg coronavirus cases fall again

The number of new confirmed coronavirus cases in Mecklenburg County fell Thursday for the third straight day, something that hasn’t happened since the first case was reported March 11.

The county said on its Twitter account Thursday that since the outbreak began last month, 869 people in the county have tested positive. The figure was 848 on Wednesday, 805 on Tuesday and 741 on Monday.

You could look at those figures and say that the number of total confirmed cases is surging, say, 60% in the past week, which is accurate and alarming.

Or you could take the same numbers, plug them into Excel and see how many new cases Mecklenburg is adding per day — which epidemiologists say is the better way to detect trends. Here’s what you get when you do that:

You’ll see the numbers went from 76 new cases Monday to 64 Tuesday, 43 Wednesday and just 21 on Thursday — the lowest weekday figure in almost two weeks (there’s less testing on weekends). The numbers have declined even as more tests are becoming available.

Looking at numbers that way, you can see why local health officials are saying things like, “We’re seeing some flattening of the curve.”

Does that mean it’s time to invite the neighborhood over to your house for a rave or cocktail party to celebrate? No. Who knows where the numbers will go next, and health officials are clear to stress that social distancing is still needed. They seem uncomfortable noting what the rest of us would consider encouraging news, for fear that we’ll get complacent. — TM

How many live close to parks?

The county says parks are open and it encourages you to use them … as long as you don’t drive there.

But how many people live close enough to a park to go to one without a car?

There’s an answer for that: According to the Charlotte/Mecklenburg Quality of Life Explorer — a data portal designed by the city, county and UNC Charlotte — 54% of Mecklenburg households live within a half-mile of an outdoor public recreation area. (Hat tip: Jennifer Moxley on Twitter)

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In brief

  • New loan pool: The Federal Reserve said Thursday that it will offer up to $600B in loans to small- and medium-sized businesses hit by the coronavirus. “Firms tapping the credit pool ‘must commit to make reasonable efforts to maintain payroll and retain workers,’ the Fed said in a statement.” (Business Insider)

  • Faces of layoffs: Two Charlotte women have created an Instagram account with photos and stories of local people who have been laid off because of the coronavirus. “Our main goal for this project is to remind people that, even though we’re all isolated in our own separated homes, the Charlotte community is extremely strong and it will live on throughout this pandemic,” one of the co-founders wrote. It’s called @CLT_Laid_Off_Locals and had 900 followers as of Friday morning. (The Biscuit)

  • Helping restaurants and healthcare workers: Seven restaurants have banded together to start a Charlotte chapter of Frontline Foods, which raises money to buy healthy meals from local restaurants to feed hospital workers. It’s looking to partner with restaurants and hospitals and is seeking donations. Details here.

  • Techies at home: Three-quarters of N.C. tech companies surveyed by the North Carolina Technology Association say nearly all of their employees are working from home. “Over 40% of tech sector leaders say that their organizations are continuing to hire, with 52% saying their organizations have frozen hiring. Only 7% reported that their employers are exploring or implementing furloughs.” (N.C. Technology Association)

  • Local breweries alter distribution: With their taprooms closed, more Charlotte-area breweries are expanding sales into grocery stores. “This is a new opportunity for both of us,” said the beverage merchandiser of Lowes Foods. (CharlotteFive)

  • Easter take-out: A bunch of restaurants in Charlotte are offering Easter meals for pick-up. Some need to be ordered by today. CharlotteFive has a list. So does Charlotte on the Cheap.

  • Behind on rent: “A new study found that nearly 1 in 4 Charlotte-area tenants did not pay their rent within the first week of April, when it is typically due.” (Observer)

  • Small business walloped: The general counsel of the N.C. Chamber told a state legislative panel this week that more than half of the state’s small businesses will close by mid-April if “stay at home” orders continue. “I think the daunting, real question here … is, When do these losses become unrecoverable?” he said. “At what point do small businesses say, ‘I’m going to shut down and give away the key’?” (Carolina Journal)

  • Liquor license stripped: State regulators voted this week to suspend the alcohol licenses of Leather & Lace in South End after an undercover sting last summer in which dancers drank on the job and agents bought cocaine. The Ledger first reported the undercover operation on Wednesday. (Observer)

  • Drone enforcement: Elizabeth, N.J., plans to use talking drones to enforce the city’s “stay at home” order. “The city said Tuesday it has started using a fleet of five drones with voice and siren capabilities … to patrol public areas and warn violators. These drones will be around the City with an automated message from the Mayor telling you to stop gathering, disperse and go home.” (NBC New York)

  • David Tepper’s hate mail: The Twitter user with the handle @DavidTepper is an ad salesman from Westchester, N.Y., named David Tepper. He’s accustomed to being confused with the owner of the Carolina Panthers — whose handle is @DavidTepper5. The ad-salesman Tepper says he’s been called a traitor and been blamed for “completely destroying the Panthers organization in record time,” and another user Tweeted at him that she hopes he gets coronavirus. “Definitely a lot of negative,” Westchester David Tepper said. (The Athletic, subscriber-only)

Charlotte’s original influencer

You might have heard that to encourage people to keep social distancing, Mecklenburg County plans to hire influencers. It has released few details. About 35% of confirmed coronavirus cases in the county are in people aged 20-39 — an age group that accounts for just 31% of the population.

Our friends at The Biscuit came up with an idea of what an influencer campaign might look like … if it were conducted by the city’s original influencer, Queen Charlotte (with cameo by King George):

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The Charlotte Ledger is an e-newsletter and web site publishing timely, informative, and interesting local business news and analysis Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, except holidays and as noted. We strive for fairness and accuracy and will correct all known errors. The content reflects the independent editorial judgment of The Charlotte Ledger. Any advertising, paid marketing, or sponsored content will be clearly labeled.

Executive editorTony MeciaManaging editorCristina BollingContributing editor: Tim Whitmire; Reporting intern: David Griffith