Philadelphia Airport Parking Shortage Shows No Sign of Abating

Travelers using Philadelphia International Airport over Thanksgiving weekend will find it easier to navigate, but a real pain to park.

Airport officials say that in recent months, they have added signs at places where travelers often were confused, and have added services and amenities in US Airways' Terminal B-C baggage-claim area, the scene of chaos last Christmas because of a lack of airline workers.

But the airport's shortage of parking spaces, which developed in mid-2004, when Southwest Airlines started service and passenger traffic began rising to record levels, shows no sign of abating, the officials said. Both the 18,000 parking spaces in the airport's garages and economy lot, as well as 18,000 spaces in private lots surrounding the airport, are often full, especially on holiday weekends.

About 100,000 passengers, compared with an average of 85,000 a day, are expected to arrive or take off on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, traditionally the busiest air-travel day of the year, airport officials said.

The most prominent improvements are in US Airways' Terminal B-C baggage-claim area, where the airport is trying to help the airline by adding concessions, more seating and brighter lighting, and is stationing its own employees to provide information.

"We're not just sitting on our hands waiting for the same debacle we had last year," said Charles J. Isdell, the city's aviation director. "We're trying to head off trouble."

US Airways, which merged with America West Airlines in September, has increased the ranks of its baggage handlers at the airport from 903 on Dec. 1, 2004, to 1,226 as of Nov. 1, spokesman Carlo Bertolini said. Thousands of customers' checked bags were missing for days during a service meltdown at Philadelphia last Christmas.

Isdell said that elsewhere in the airport, new signs have been placed in four areas where airport users have complained they often got lost. The airport also has set up information kiosks throughout terminals, he said.

The most prominent signs are at Terminal F, warning people not to walk across the six-lane departures roadway to reach the passenger pickup zone. The US Airways Express terminal is the only one where the baggage-claim area is just outside security and close to the ticket counters, which leads many people to think they should exit the building there.

The passenger pickup zone is reached - legally - only by going up one flight and over a bridge to an area on the ground level of the E-F garage. Airport officials had acknowledged that signs were inadequate.

To try to eliminate the confusion, "we're looking at constructing a bag-claim building for Terminal F over on the garage side," Isdell said.

In Terminal A-West, a large wall sign has been added to help passengers leaving the international-arrivals hall find their way to connecting flights, ground transportation and garages.

For drivers coming to pick up arriving passengers, there are now 120 signs along roads leading in and out of the airport, declaring "No Stopping or Standing" and directing the drivers to a "cell-phone lot" on Bartram Avenue. Philadelphia police regularly ticket those who ignore the signs and park on the sides of the road.

For motorists leaving the airport and headed toward Interstate 95, directional markings for "95 North" and "95 South" have been painted on the road surface.

Before getting close to the airport's six terminals, though, outbound passengers will need to consider whether to drive and hunt for parking, have someone drop them off, or use SEPTA's R1 commuter trains or a limousine or van service.

The airport recently added 310 spaces to its surface economy lot, giving it a total of 5,700 spots, but that has done little to ease the shortage, Isdell said. The last large increase in spaces came in 2000 and 2001, when the Philadelphia Parking Authority, which owns and operates the airport's facilities, completed the A-West and E-F garages, adding 5,000 spots.

Parking Authority spokeswoman Linda Miller said the agency was updating a study it did in 1999 to address the shortage, "because the needs have changed out there since Southwest came in."

Among the ways to add space may be tearing down the old Overseas Terminal on Island Avenue so the economy lot can expand, but that is a year or more away, airport officials said.

The airport is surrounded by 19 privately operated parking facilities, situated on or near Route 291 in Tinicum Township, on Essington Avenue at the Philadelphia Auto Mall or just west of it, and on Island Avenue. Demand for space in the off-airport lots has been heavy all year, their managers said.

Pete Carrera, director of Winner Airport Parking, on Essington Avenue in the auto mall, said other long weekends had been worse than he expected Thanksgiving weekend to be. He said his facility had about 3,000 spaces and he did not anticipate it would be filled.

"We're seeing a huge increase," said Sue Suarez, general manager of Ampco Express Parking on Island Avenue. "We anticipate being full over the Thanksgiving weekend... . But people are always coming back from the airport, so spots open up."

Destination: Airport

Drive to the airport and park, if you dare. Or consider alternative transportation.

Parking at the airport costs $9 a day in the economy lot and $17 a day in the garages. Short-term ground-level parking is $17 up to four hours, or $34 a day.

Private off-airport parking lots are on Essington Avenue near the Philadelphia Auto Mall, on or near Route 291, west of the airport, and on Island Avenue. Costs range from $7 to $14.25 a day.

The R1 airport line leaves 30th Street Station daily at 4:34 a.m. and every 30 minutes from 5:34 a.m. to 11:34 p.m. A one-way trip costs $5.50.

Private companies run shuttle vans that start around $15 per person from Center City, higher in the suburbs.

Taxis charge a flat rate of $25 per trip (not per person) to and from Center City.

Philadelphia Inquirer

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