Travelers using Philadelphia International Airport are running into an unexpected problem these days: There often is nowhere to park.
This is occurring particularly with the long-term economy lot, which routinely fills up quickly each day.
Many airline passengers then are left with a difficult choice: risk missing their flights as they scramble to find off-site parking, or put their cars in airport parking garages, which charge $17 a day, compared with $9 a day in the economy lot. The short-term ground-level lots across from the airport's baggage-claim areas charge $38 a day.
Officials say parking spots are hard to come by because low-fare carrier Southwest Airlines, which began operating out of Terminal E in May of last year, is drawing far more passengers than expected.
"In less than a year, they've bumped up to our No. 2 carrier," said Mark Pesce, a spokesman for the airport.
The influx of passengers has flooded the airport's 17,172 parking spaces, including the 5,672-space economy lot, which often is the first to fill up, according to the Philadelphia Parking Authority, which manages the lots and garages.
On Tuesday, for instance, the "Lot Full" sign was up at 11:30 a.m. at the economy lot, and Parking Authority workers were referring motorists to the airport's garages. The same scenario occurred yesterday.
The situation has been exacerbated as Southwest's low fares have caused carriers such as US Airways, the airport's No. 1 carrier, to lower their fares, attracting even more passengers, officials say.
The result, Pesce said, is that a record 28.5 million passengers flew into and out of the airport last year - up 15.5 percent from 2003. The trend has continued into this year. For the 12 months ending June 30, about 31 million travelers passed through the airport - up 18.6 percent from the comparable 2003-04 period.
On some days, all of the spaces in the economy lot, garages, and short-term lots are filled, officials say.
"We've noticed a sizable increase in usage because of Southwest," said Linda Miller, senior director of facilities/public affairs for the Parking Authority.
Miller said there was no way the Parking Authority could have predicted that so many people would flock to the airport to take advantage of the low fares.
Previously, when the economy lot was full, the authority gave out vouchers that allowed people to park in the garages at economy-lot rates. Not anymore.
"We were doing that when we had plenty of spaces," Miller said.
The Parking Authority, she said, is constructing an additional 300 economy-lot spaces, which it expects will be available soon.
Through its Web site ( www.philapark.org), the authority plans by the end of the year to alert travelers when lots are full. Miller said people also would soon be able to request to be notified by cell phone or BlackBerry device if their flights were delayed.
The authority is in the design stages of expanding the Terminals E/F garage. But that improvement may take years to complete, according to officials.
Parking Authority and city officials say travelers should plan ahead, take public transportation if possible, and use neighboring lots that are not affiliated with the airport.
City Councilman Frank Rizzo said he met with airport officials this year to discuss the parking situation, which he termed "incredible."
The councilman suggested that people be dropped off at the airport by a family member or friend or take public transit. Although some people may "snicker" at the thought, Rizzo said, SEPTA's R1 train, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, is convenient.
Taxis are another option, although fares went up last month. A trip from Center City to the airport, for example, used to cost $20. Now, it is $25.
For those who drive, there are off-site options, most of which are several minutes from the airport - along Essington Avenue near Bartram Avenue in Philadelphia, on Route 291 in Essington, or along Governor Printz Boulevard in Tinicum Township. "We all get the overflow, ever since Southwest came in," said Wally Pinkney, manager of AviStar, an off-site parking lot with 500 to 700 spaces on Essington Avenue.
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