Tight security and cellular phones have changed the way Americans pick people up at the airport, but some air terminals around the country are having trouble adapting.
On any given evening at Philadelphia International Airport, scores of drivers trying to avoid the hassle and cost of parking in a garage prowl the access roads looking for an out-of-the-way place to pull over and wait for a call from deplaning friends and relatives.
With terminal curbsides off-limits since the Sept. 11 attacks, the next best spot has been the shoulder of Route 291 near the airport's outskirts, but police posted “no stopping” signs there when the area's popularity surged.
Some motorists then shifted to the breakdown lanes on ramps from Interstate 95, but police concerned about a rising number of accidents are now cracking down there too.
Capt. Dominic Mingacci, commander of the Philadelphia police department's airport unit, announced a new get-tough policy this week that will include aggressive patrols of the access roads and a $25 ticket to anyone who stops in a no-stopping zone.
“No more just chasing people away,” Mingacci said. “We've been enforcing this thing, but it's getting to the point now where it's a safety hazard. Pulling in and out of high-speed traffic isn't safe, especially when half of them are on a cell phone.”
Other airports have tired of playing a similar cat-and-mouse game with motorists and given them an official place to wait.
On April 20, Baltimore-Washington International Airport opened a 55-space “cell phone lot” where drivers can idle while they wait to be called to the terminal, which is a few minutes away by car. BWI spokeswoman Holly Ellison said customers are still finding out about the lot, but it has already helped reduce traffic density and illegal parking on roads that loop through the terminals.
San Diego International Airport opened a similar cell phone waiting lot Thursday. Motorists must turn off their engines and remain in their vehicles after entering the 50-space lot, but can stay for up to an hour for free.
Birmingham International Airport in Alabama opened its first free lot for cell-phone equipped drivers on May 10. Palm Beach International Airport in Florida added a 40-space cell-phone lot in December.
Chicago O'Hare International Airport added its “kiss and fly” lot almost a decade ago. Motorists there can wait for passengers at remote lots attached to the terminal by train.
Philadelphia International is willing to consider something similar, said airport spokesman Mark Pesce, but he said a solution isn't immediately in the works. For now, he encouraged people picking up passengers to spring for a spot in the garage, although some customers might balk at the price: $3 for the first 30 minutes, $5 for the first hour, $7 for 90 minutes and a pricey $9 for two hours.
In the meantime, scofflaws who duck into the breakdown lane for a few minutes to wait for that call summoning them to the terminal should keep an eye out in their rearview mirror for Capt. Mingacci.