Airport Parking – A Holiday Nightmare?
The classic song says it all – there's no better place than home during the holiday season. For many of us, though, "home" – the place where our family lives – isn't nearby. Careers and educational paths have taken us far away from where we grew up, and so we need to travel in order to participate in a family holiday gathering.
Unfortunately, while we're preparing to travel home, thousands of others are doing the same. For those of us who need to travel by air, getting home can be a stressful experience, starting with our arrival at the airport.
Leaving a car at the airport is usually not a problem. You just pull into a convenient airport parking garage, take your ticket and walk or take a shuttle bus to the terminal. After you return from your trip, you pay your parking fee and head for home. During the hectic holiday travel season, the simple act of parking takes on new and terrifying significance. Everyone else is leaving on the same day you are, and all those other travelers need to park their cars, too.
I worked for an airport parking contractor for two years and witnessed the day-before-Thanksgiving parking drama first-hand. Believe it or not, there are things you can do to make the beginning and end of your holiday trip – your parking experience – less stressful. It's all about planning ahead.
Holiday Airport Parking Tips
Plan for delays. Remember that everyone else is going the same place you are – the airport terminal. This means that you will encounter traffic, perhaps more than you've ever seen before, at your local airport. Take the amount of time you think you'll need to park at the lot farthest away from your terminal (including shuttle bus time), double it and then add an hour or so for weather delays and other unexpected problems. That's how much time you'll probably need to drive onto the airport property, park and get to the terminal.
Get information. Find out which airport parking garages and lots have shuttle bus service to your airline's departure terminal. The best way to get this information is to call your airline's ticket desk or the parking office at your airport. Ask them how much time you'll need to allow to park in the lot farthest away from the airport terminal and still get to your flight. Don't waste your time calling the general information number for your airline. You need local advice from people who work at your airport. Keep your travel date, time and flight number handy in case your airport contact asks for them.
Consider airport parking alternatives. Some privately-owned lots offer free shuttles that pick you up at your car and drop you off right at the airport terminal, and they cost less than the airport lots. A few offer amenities such as bottled water (you have to drink it before you go through airport security, unfortunately), newspapers and frequent parker programs. Other parking alternatives include reserving a space on an airport shuttle and asking friends to take you to the airport.
Pack lightly. You'll need to bring your suitcases aboard the parking lot shuttle bus if you park at a long-term lot. You'll then need to get your bags into the terminal building. Even if your airport's website says skycaps will be available, my experience has been that they aren't always around to help, or, if they're working, they are airline-specific. Expect to handle your luggage on your own. You'll save money on checked baggage fees if you pack carefully, too.
Check traffic reports before you leave home. Ideally, you should start checking for traffic problems several hours before you plan to drive to the airport. You'll have plenty of time to take an alternate route if you monitor the traffic situation.
Keep your airport parking ticket. If you lose it, you will have to pay quite a bit more to get your car out of the parking lot.
Expect last-minute problems. Traffic jams, parking lot closures and on-airport detours are all part of the holiday airport parking experience. Stay calm if something unexpected happens. If you've planned correctly, you'll still have plenty of time to get to the terminal.
Bring the best gift of all – your smile. Remember that the parking staff has to work every holiday, in every type of weather. You're in a stressful situation, true, but you'll be home for your holiday celebration at the end of the day. Share a smile with the airport parking lot cashiers and supervisors; they'll truly appreciate your cheerful attitude.