6 Myths About Philadelphia International Airport

Setting the record straight on takeoff time, Terminal F and more at the city's favorite travel hub.

I travel a few times a month for business, which means I’m a frequent visitor to the Philadelphia International Airport. It’s a good airport and, in my opinion, managed pretty well. But beware. There are a few myths about the airport, so I’ll set the record straight.

1. Don’t believe those “available spaces” signs in the parking garages.
The system’s accuracy is questionable at best. I’m sure the airport authority has invested millions in this system with the best of intentions. The idea is to save me time and stress by directing me to the floor and aisle where spaces are available. Nah. I’ve driven hundreds of times around Garages B and C, and rest assured I don’t care what the flashing sign says: There are not 10 available spaces in that row! I’ll admit I’m not very good at math, but I’ve never been able to reconcile the number of spaces the system says are available with the actual available spaces. But don’t get discouraged fellow traveler: Journey to the fourth floor of Garage B. Despite what the signs tell you, there’s always a spot.

2. Pilots will often say “once we leave the gate we should be airborne in just a few minutes.” Don’t believe them.
Any pilot who tells you this is either lying to you or has never flown into and out of the Philadelphia International Airport. It’s never taken me less than 30 minutes to get from the gate to #27 in the takeoff queue. Philadelphia is notorious for being congested so brace yourself. Knowing this, savvy gate attendants try to get their planes off and running as soon as possible, so make sure to get to your gate early or you may find the doors shut a few minutes before departure. And if you’re a reader, bring something other than an e-reader because you’re not allowed to use any electronic devices after the doors are closed—in case your $79 Kindle interferes with the complex operating system of the $100 million plane you’re sitting in.

3. The electronic walkways between terminals don’t get you to your destination any faster.
Why? Because you’re just not able to “walk to the left.” It’s a myth. In theory you should. But tell that to the overweight woman taking up the entire path or the businessman talking on his cell phone who either can’t read English or is just plain ignoring the signs to stand to the right. Or that family with too much luggage. They’re all there, clogging up the walkway between terminals A-East and B and there’s not much you can do without causing an international incident. So you’ll just have to stand like an idiot on the platform as it moves past those old movie posters and wonder why the airport actually cares to admit that Mannequin was made in the city.

4. The Philadelphia Airport’s “cell phone waiting lot” doesn’t exist.
Oh sure, they will tell you they have one and that it’s located on Bartram Avenue. But go ahead, check it out. For starters … it’s on Bartram Ave. That’s Southwest Philadelphia if you’re not familiar with the geography, which isn’t exactly Rittenhouse Square. I’ve risked my life there a few times and given up. Other than a small sign, there’s no other connection to the airport itself. The airport treats its cell phone waiting lot like that cousin who spent time in prison … you know you’re related to him but you really don’t want to admit it. You can’t even see the airport from where you’re parked. I couldn’t find any electronic board listing arrivals either. Did I miss it? Oh, maybe that was because I was too distracted looking over my shoulder for an axe-wielding murderer to appear out of the swampland surrounding the lot. Don’t believe me? Then why do people still insist on lining up on the I-95 off-ramp shoulder instead of using the lot? Because they are natives, and they know better. They want to live to see their loved ones get off the plane. Case in point: Would you tell your teenage daughter to go there and wait for your arriving flight? Yeah, I didn’t think so. [UPDATE 8/24/12: Correction. This may come as a surprise, but the last time anyone from out-of-town actually wanted to visit me was three years ago. I’ve been told by readers that the airport now has a fancy new cell phone parking lot. I promise to check it out very soon. But I’m still keeping my doors locked.]

5. There is no wireless Internet service.
Believing that you will be able to use the Internet consistently and reliably anywhere within the airport to get your work done is naive. Service in some parts of Terminal B is great, while a few hundred yards over in Terminal C you’ll be lucky to get a TV signal, let alone an Internet connection. It’s like a restaurant saying they serve steak, but then they serve different portions depending on where you’re sitting in the dining room. If you’re planning on spending time in the airport and want to use your computer, you better have your own data plan with your wireless provider. And for God’s sake, bring an extra battery. Finding an available outlet (let alone a working outlet) in this airport is like finding a Phillies reliever who can get three consecutive outs.

6. The Philadelphia International Airport does not have a Terminal F.
At least it feels that way. Terminal F is actually closer to Newark International. To get to the mythical Terminal F, you have to first find where to pick up a shuttle (psst … it’s hidden behind the Au Bon Pain and between Terminals C and D and down an escalator but don’t let anyone else in on this secret). Then you stand in line like you’re waiting for stale bread in the Soviet Union (which is made even more frustrating by the waft of baked bread aromas coming from the Au Bon Pain). You’ll also have to brave whatever elements are raining, snowing or hailing down on you to get on and off the shuttle bus, which drives precariously between jetliners and baggage handlers on an active runway while you stand with hundreds of other miserable business travelers who are likely praying along with you that the driver hasn’t been drinking and can understand the indecipherable white, yellow, blue and purple painted lines that make up the traffic patterns. I know the airport is working on improving this system. But right now it’s easier finding Platform 8¾ in Kings Cross than locating my flight to Buffalo.

It’s worth repeating: As airports go, I think Philadelphia is as good as any. But let’s all admit there are a few myths and move on. Am I missing anything?