Drivers Face Inconvenient Pick-Up Alternatives at Raleigh, N.C., Airport

Sep. 6--Picking up passengers arriving at RDU once meant pulling up to the terminal curb and assembling a welcoming party at the airline's gate.

But at Raleigh-Durham International, that ritual has been replaced by a choice: parking in the hourly lots across the street from the terminals and waiting near baggage claim areas or driving a continuous loop around the airport until the cell phone rings.

Wilmington resident Michael G. Cremmen, who was at RDU recently to pick up his brother, had had enough of the loop drive when he pulled into a lot at the RDU Airport Authority offices and waited for his brother to call and say that he was on the ground, ready to be picked up.

"To park the car (in the deck) is an inconvenience," said Cremmen, a salesman who checked e-mail from customers on a Blackberry while he waited under a shady tree. "You go in, wait 10 minutes, it's a waste of my time, bottom line."

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. Security officers also must be vigilant in keeping pick-up drivers from idling at the terminal.

A growing number of airports -- concerned about the traffic congestion by waiting drivers and the demands placed on security personnel -- are creating designated free areas for waiting drivers.

At the Los Angeles, Seattle and Philadelphia airports, among others, drivers picking up passengers now have free "cell phone waiting lots."

Seattle-Tacoma's cell phone lot, which opened last Christmas, is so successful that authorities are already considering a larger area.

"They're becoming more and more common," said Pamela Shepherd, a spokeswoman for Airports Council International, a Washington, D.C., airport association group. "It's very convenient for all parties -- drivers, passengers and airports."

Hamlin says RDU has no plans for cell phone lots, but she says waiting drivers may use the 230-space lot outside the authority's offices, at Rental Car Road, or the 40-space lot at the airport observation park, east of the terminal, without paying a fee.