Because of my job as a business owner, speaker and author, I fly into the Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) about five to 10 times every month. Here are a few things I’ve learned.
1. Fly American: I know, you’ve probably got your gripes about American Airlines (which recently merged with US Airways). And I hear you. But they own PHL. And let’s face — with all our complaining, do they or do they not get us to our destination safely? Eventually. But, if you’re trying to get anywhere from here and (even more importantly) find your way back, you’re just going to have more options if you use them. I’ve learned that if you’re having issues, their social media team at @AmericanAir can be responsive, or at least sympathetic. Otherwise, just do what I do and drink heavily.
2. Join the Admiral’s Club: Because American owns PHL, there’s a lounge in every terminal. Although it costs a few hundred bucks a year, it transports business travelers to a heaven unlike anywhere else at the Philly airport. It’s quiet. And has unlimited coffee. And oatmeal. With cinnamon. And people who greet you with “Welcome back Mr. Marks” instead of “you better gate-check that bag because it ain’t gonna fit in any damn overhead.” Oh, and there’s a bar. And booze is included in your fee! And…now brace yourself…actual working Internet. No way!
3. Ignore those “available spaces” lights at the parking garages: They don’t work. I’ve gone to floors (and the 3rd floor is the best for parking in Garage C, a central location to the airport) where I’ve been warned that “available spaces” are in the single digits but then I find dozens that are open! Also, when parking, use your credit card on your way in and out – it’s way quicker, assuming you don’t get behind that one guy who hasn’t quite figured out the whole credit-card-in-and-out thing.
4. Picking someone up from an international flight? Do this: Park on the 3rd floor of terminal A-West. The doorways lead right out to the International Arrivals Hall so you can make a quick getaway.
5. The best food is in Terminal F: But good luck getting there without a compass, a pair of hiking boots and a two-day supply of water. There are bus shuttles from Terminals A and C. But once there you’ll be rewarded. It’s a beautiful, brand new place with…be still… a Chipotle! Oh, and a Red Mango, Smashburger and Sbarro too. Compared to Terminal F, the food at the rest of the airport pretty much sucks. The Food court between Terminals B and C change restaurants faster than the Phillies bullpen.
6. Bring batteries: PHL is still in the technology dark ages. The Internet throughout is unreliable, spotty and slow. Many other airports I visit have plugs on every chair at the gate. But PHL still seems to be lacking a continued source of electrical power to do this. So instead, business travelers are forced to fight with teenagers charging their iPhones for floor plugs that mostly don’t work and charging stations that are inconveniently located in the middle of high traffic areas. Your best solution is to join the Admiral’s Club where there’s not only better Internet but oatmeal. With cinnamon.
7. Sign up for TSA Pre-check: If you travel more than three times a year, do this now. You will forever be grateful. The minute you cruise by those hundreds of peons standing in line, get that friendly wink from the TSA guy and then stick your bag (with your computer still inside!) on the belt and walk through that scanner (without taking off your shoes!) you’ll feel like you’ve truly arrived. And if you travel more than once a year outside the U.S. go through the Global Entry process where, with just a quick scan of your fingerprints, you’ve avoided all immigration lines. Yeah, so you’re forfeiting all of your most intimate personal data to the U.S. government for safekeeping. At PHL, the TSA station with all the perks is always open at Terminal B. You’re taking your chances elsewhere.
8. Don’t go too early: Speaking of the TSA, remember the old rule that you need to be at the airport at least one hour before your flight? That would be nice, except that in most terminals at PHL the TSA doesn’t even open until 4:30AM or even as late as 4:45AM. So if you’ve got that 5:15AM flight to Charlotte from Terminal F, you might as well sleep in a few more minutes. You’ll have plenty of time to stress out about making it later when the lady with the four kids and all those liquids in front of you at security can’t get it all together and your flight’s about to board.
9. Use FlightAware before you fly: Why? You can check out the gate where your return flight (remember, the airlines operate even when you’re not flying) usually goes to and then park your car there to save you time walking to the garage. Pretty smart, huh?
10. Take the SEPTA train: I’ve done this many times. It runs twice an hour. It’s $8, which is a quarter (including tip) of what you’ll pay for a cab to Center City.
Gene Marks is a guest columnist for BizPhilly. He’s written for publications like the New York Times, Forbes and the Huffington Post. Follow him on Twitter. All opinions expressed in this column are his own.
Follow @BizPhilly on Twitter.