Philadelphia International Airport will be busier than pandemic-normal this Thanksgiving.
Traffic has been down about 30% this year at PHL. During the Thanksgiving travel period, traffic will be down only about 15%, as officials expect 400,000 outbound passengers from Nov. 19 to Nov. 30.
Here’s what to keep in mind, from the moment you leave your door until you arrive at your gate.
Where to park at Philadelphia International Airport
Parking at the airport is more scarce than in the past. The privately run PreFlight lot was closed and sold for development this past summer. And PHL’s economy parking lot has been closed since March 2020 and is not reopening. (The 40-acre property is now slated for development intended to boost PHL’s cargo business.)
That means you should come up with a transportation plan in advance because the economy lot’s 7,100 parking spaces are not available, and the onsite garages, with about 12,000 spots, fill up.
If you need to drive, consider making a parking reservation at one of the private lots listed on the airport’s website. Rates range from about $10 to $20 a day. (In PHL’s onsite garages, the cheapest daily rate is $16 when parking for 72 hours or more.)
» READ MORE: A map of the nine off-site parking lots at PHL
PHL estimates that 8,700 parking spaces are available at the nine private lots, some of which are located close by, although others are up to 4.5 miles away. Build in enough time to take shuttle service to PHL.
Airport officials are strongly encouraging passengers to use alternatives to driving, including SEPTA’s Airport Line on Regional Rail and rideshare services such as Uber and Lyft, or getting rides from a family member or friend.
When to arrive at the airport
Get there early. PHL recommends arriving at least three hours before your boarding time.
Sanford Gips, a frequent traveler who lives in Moorestown, allows an hour in his travel schedule just to find parking at PHL. “It’s really a competition now for parking spaces,” he said.
Gips has flown out of PHL 11 times this year, and is taking his 12th trip Thursday evening. Mass transit is not a good option for him, he said, and for him, the cost of an Uber makes economic sense only if he’s going away for more than a week.
He brings only carry-on luggage, and has TSA PreCheck — both timesavers. Otherwise, “If you’re checking bags, you have to be there 3½ hours beforehand,” Gips said.
Airport mask rules
Masks are still required, regardless of vaccination status. Under federal mandates, passengers — aged 2 and older — must wear masks at airports, security checkpoints, and onboard airplanes until Jan. 18, 2022. Those same rules apply to all forms of public transportation, including buses and trains.
Need to grab a bite? The CDC says masks may be removed “for brief periods of time” when travelers are eating, drinking, or taking medication.
Vaccination and testing requirements for international travel
If you’re flying abroad, make sure to check your destination’s entry requirements, such as proof of vaccination and negative test results for COVID-19.
For example, American Airlines, which carries the most passenger traffic at PHL, directs travelers to the website Sherpa, which has a search tool for travel restrictions all over the world. Also, it’s worth checking to see whether your airline uses an app — such as VeriFLY — to help manage COVID-related requirements before boarding.
PHL and Jefferson Health have also partnered to offer a COVID-19 testing site at the airport for passengers.
Should I get a booster to travel?
If you’re at least six months out from your second Pfizer or Moderna vaccination — or two months from your Johnson & Johnson vaccination — consider getting a booster before you travel.
On the urging of medical experts including nationally prominent immunologist Anthony Fauci, federal authorities are poised to open boosters to everyone over 18 soon, something that’s already happened in New York City and several states.
TSA rules: What can I bring on my flight?
The Transportation Security Administration says you can bring some Thanksgiving favorites through checkpoints, namely solid food items such as baked goods and meats, whether cooked, fresh, or frozen. Ice or ice packs must be completely frozen to be allowed through security.
Generally, anything that’s liquid — that goes for gravy and cranberry sauce — and larger than 3.4 ounces should go in a checked bag, though TSA is continuing to allow one container of hand sanitizer, up to 12 ounces, in carry-on baggage.
Bear in mind that at PHL, the Terminal C security checkpoint is only for passengers with TSA PreCheck.
“The Terminal B checkpoint is the closest for passengers departing from Terminal C without PreCheck,” said airport spokesperson Heather Redfern.
What if my flight is delayed?
Since the summer, passengers have dealt with frustrating spates of cancellations and delays on several major airlines because of staffing shortages and bad weather.
The good news is that air carriers have trimmed schedules, which allows more flexibility in their systems, and some, such as American and Southwest, are offering new incentives to employees to be available during the holiday travel season.
“All of this will make a big difference during the holidays, to the benefit of travelers,” said Charles Leocha, president of the consumer advocacy group Travelers United.
Even so, you “should be prepared for the possibility that there may be delays,” Leocha said. “If anything goes wrong during this period, we’re going to see it quickly.”
His advice: Bring snacks with you, and keep in your carry-on bag any items you’d need that day or evening, such as medication, or extra diapers if you’re traveling with young children. Leocha also recommends traveling with a multi-plug extension cord, which comes in handy at the airport and at hotels.
As a final reminder, he said, “Bring your sense of humor.”