But no longer.
The Sunport, which also serves as the primary commercial-airline hub for Santa Fe passengers, has designated a section of pavement to the east of the terminal as the Cell Phone Waiting Area.
On Friday, that saved Luther his usual driving-around time and about a half-gallon of diesel fuel. "It sure beats driving around in circles for 30 minutes," he said.
Plus, it's free.
Sunport spokesman Daniel Jiron said the airport started the waiting area about three months ago, but the airport just finished putting up all the signs in time for the busy holiday travel season. The cell-phone lot has room for 54 vehicles. Drivers can find it by simply following the signs.
The goal is to ease congestion in front of the terminal, Jiron said. Since the airport banned friends and family from gate areas as part of security measures after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, fewer people have been coming into the terminal to meet people.
"We have a real limited amount of space," he said, "and we're trying to stop the congestion caused by people looping around and looping around."
According to the Sunport's Web site, the airport this year served more than 4.8 million people by Sept. 30, up 2.1 percent over last year's figures for the same period.
Cell-phone waiting areas at airports are a trend, Jiron said. Los Angles' LAX airport has one as does Baltimore/Washington International Airport near Washington, D.C. The General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee has one as well.
Kris Schexnayder of Albuquerque used the waiting area for the first time Friday and had no problem finding it. Schexnayder said he frequently picks up relatives arriving from Louisiana, and on Friday, he was there to greet his in-laws.
Before the Cell Phone Waiting Area, Schexnayder said, he sometimes used the parking lot at the nearby Wydham Hotel to wait for a phone call.
So did Jim Rundle, also of Albuquerque, who has used the airport's Cell Phone Waiting Area twice since it started. Before that, he used to either drive around in circles or park in the hotel parking lot and wait for a call. "It's a good idea," Rundle said of the waiting area.
Cynthia Fresquez, general manager of the Wyndham, the only hotel actually on airport property, said fewer people now pull into the hotel's lot to wait for calls -- a practice that's against the rules.
The hotel's bellmen patrol the parking lot every once in a while to make sure people are using it only for hotel business, Fresquez said, and sometimes people have gotten angry when the bellmen told them they couldn't wait for calls.
The bellmen don't want to inconvenience anyone, Fresquez said, but the hotel had to become much more security conscious after Sept. 11. "We have to say, 'We're sorry, but you can't park here,' " she said.
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Surface lots reserved for motorists waiting to pick up arriving passengers considered as a solution for traffic problems.
RDU spokeswoman Mindy Hamlin said it's a daily occurrence for airport police to move drivers who pull over to the side of one the airport's roads while awaiting phone calls.
The changes are necessary, airport officials say, to make room for the light-rail system's airport station.
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