Cellphone Lots Become a KeyAirport Feature

(The Philadelphia Inquirer/MCT) -

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.

That was before PhiladelphiaInternationalAirport 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, from among 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 friend, 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 dwell 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; PhoenixSkyHarborAirport has three.

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

Some airports impose a time limit to discourage drivers from lingering. Others require drivers to be with their cars at all times.

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.

DenverInternationalAirport 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.

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.

Did motorists waiting recently for passengers have suggestions for the Philadelphia cellphone lot?

“Potentially put in a rest area – bathrooms of some sort,” said Leigh Walker of Manahawkin, N.J. “A lot of people would really appreciate it.”

Dan Rapak of Reading, Pa. would like to see the “no idling” signs come down, because “in 90- or 100-degree weather, you are going to sit here with no air-conditioning.” The signs ask parked motorists to turn off car engines.

Joshua Kocses of Princeton, N.J. said that if there were more space, he’d like to see a concession stand. “Other than that, it’s definitely convenient. It’s nice to drive and not pay for parking. Plus, I can just sit here and eat or work, do whatever I’ve got to do.”