July 7, 2013

Airport cellphone lots get ringing endorsement

The free parking areas ease the headache of traveler pickup.

By LINDA LOYD The Philadelphia Inquirer

It used to be you'd circle the airport loop, get chased away from baggage claim by police or park precariously on the shoulder of ramps and roadways.

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Cars make their way through the cellphone lot at Philadelphia International Airport on June 19. The free parking areas, where people picking up travelers can wait, have sprung up at airports around the country.

Photos by Elizabeth Robertson/Philadelphia Inquirer

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Additional Photos Below

That was before Philadelphia International Airport opened a convenient 150-space cellphone waiting lot in December 2009 on airport property -- just one minute from the terminals.

Great. Terrific. Handy. Easy to find. And, best of all, free.

Since tighter post-Sept. 11, security, cellphone lots -- free parking areas where people picking up travelers can wait -- have sprung up at many of the largest U.S. airports.

"The word has gotten out, and it's been very well-received," said Keith Brune, deputy director of Philadelphia airport operations.

Drivers interviewed recently among about 80 to 100 cars streaming into the lot were enthusiastic.

"It's wonderful to have this and not have to go into short-term parking, and worry that if the flight is delayed, you will have to pay extra," said Jamie Kravec of West Chester, Pa., waiting for the "I'm here" call from her boyfriend, flying in from Seattle.

"There's less hassle. We used to sit out on the highway waiting for people," said Joyce Miller of Townsend, Del., who with her husband, Arthur, was picking up a family member from Tennessee.

"It's beautiful that they've got all these flight display boards," she said. "It's a sign of the times. We all use cellphones."

Improving traffic safety and congestion was a key motive for the lots. Since 9/11, the Transportation Security Administration has not allowed cars to linger at baggage claim.

Cellphone lots range from a paved lot to a complex with portable toilets, electronic flight display screens, food and free Wi-Fi.

The Charlotte, N.C., airport has two cellphone lots; Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport has three.

Pittsburgh International offers the first hour of parking for free in the "extended-term" parking lot; the second hour costs $1.

The airport in Portland, Ore., is seeking a developer to build a fuel, convenience store and fast-food "travel center" where those waiting for flights can grab coffee and fill up their gas tank while keeping tabs on a flight's status.

Cincinnati's airport plans to put a gas station at its entrance road with a larger waiting area, convenience store and a Subway or Dunkin' Donuts, said Paul Hegedus, the airport's vice president of commercial management.

Denver International Airport will relocate its cellphone lot next to a gas station and a Wendy's. "When the new waiting area opens this fall, it will have a food court with a Subway, Dunkin' Donuts, Baja Fresh Mexican Grill, and Zpizza," said airport spokeswoman Julie Smith.

The Tampa, Fla., airport's cellphone lot features food trucks, Wi-Fi and a pavilion with restrooms and vending machines.

"Some people will come just for the food truck, not even to pick up a passenger," said airport spokeswoman Janet Zink. A list of food trucks is posted weekly on the airport's Facebook page.

Many cellphone lots are basic parking areas, lighted at night and patrolled by police but without concessions or restrooms. They include Baltimore-Washington International, Los Angeles, Washington Dulles, and Reagan National airports.

Between 4 and 10 p.m., when Philadelphia airport is busiest, the cellphone lot consistently has 75 or 80 cars -- and is 100 percent full around holidays.

The lot was packed before 5 p.m. on a recent weekday and another dozen cars were parked on Route 291, just outside the cellphone lot. In one of them, Derrick Gray of Lumberton, N.J., said he drove through the lot once and, not finding a space, looped around and parked on 291.

"It's an overflow crowd here. I think it could have been a little bigger," he said, referring to the lot. "It beats riding around the airport."

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Joe McGuriman of Lansdale, Pa., parks in front of one of three electronic flight status boards at the cellphone lot at Philadelphia International Airport on June 19.

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Max enjoys some fresh air while waiting in the car in the PIA cellphone lot with his owner, Jamie Kravec, who was picking up her boyfriend.


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