Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Why does Phila. airport have such contradictory parking signs? | Michael Smerconish

There's one area in which the airport needs to up its game: signage. And there's one pair of signs in particular that I find confounding and frustrating.

A plane at the Philadelphia International Airport,
A plane at the Philadelphia International Airport,Read moreJESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer

I flew more in 2018 than any previous year of my life. American Airlines just sent me a year-end statement saying that on their flights alone, I spent 59 hours in the sky, flew one time around the world, traveled to nine destinations, and visited Las Vegas and Los Angeles most often. For good measure, they told me the Airbus A321 was the type of aircraft I flew most. Always, I used Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) as home base.

In general, I’ve had a good experience. The airport is well located. The parking is ample, even though I find those automatic space counters to often be incorrect. And the airport has decent options to go most anywhere on a daily basis. But there is one area in which the airport needs to up its game: signage. And there is one pair of signs in particular that I find confounding and frustrating.

Here is a thought experiment. Imagine you are driving to PHL to depart for a one- to two-day business trip, which happens to be my standard drill. Consider that you are in your own car and wish to park in a short-term lot. So, you exit I-95, and just as you approach the airport, before the road forks, the following signs confront you:

You have two to three seconds to make a decision. Which way do you go? Remember, you are departing … and need to park. Hmmmm. The sign on the right references “Departing Flights,” but has no mention of parking. The sign on the left references “Parking” but is headlined “Arriving Flights.”

I know the answer (go left). But every time I navigate this stretch of road I think about the infrequent traveler, or out-of-towner, who gets mixed up, takes the option to the right, and now has to make an entire loop around the airport just to get back to this fork in the road. When I recently brought my complaint to the attention of the PR folks at the airport, I received the following reply:

“We always strive to improve the customer experience at PHL. This entails looking at the entire facility both inside and outside the terminal building including signage. We always appreciate feedback from customers and are thankful for their input.” That didn’t provide me any satisfaction. And I’ll be the first to admit it’s far easier to identify this signage issue than to offer an easy solution. When I posted the photograph I took through a windshield with my iPhone on Facebook, many had suggestions.

Ken Harris of Haverford, Pa., said he takes a cab on the way to and a Lyft on the way back from the airport. His total cost is less than $100.

“You will be supporting local people rather than the money pit of PHL,” he said.

Jim Acton of Natick, Mass., concurred with Harris, advising taking an Uber both ways.

Karen Rhatigan of Middletown, N.J., said: “Drop off to the right, parking to the left. Don’t overthink it.”

She’s right that the correct option is to the left, “Arriving Flights,” notwithstanding that I am departing. But I think given the human factors — namely seeing the word “Arriving” in the lane you should select when you are “Departing” — it’s misleading at best.

Peter Olson of Malvern, Pa., suggested the airport should highlight the word “Parking” in yellow. Maybe he’s right, but does that sufficiently fix the issue of parking and departure signs contradicting one another? I doubt it.

My personal suggestion is the removal of the word “Parking” on the “Arriving” sign, and the posting of a separate sign that explains exactly where short-term parking is located.

I was spurred to highlight this problem when reading that Popeyes is exclusively offering PHL passengers a to-go container styled as an “emotional support chicken.” Travel is stressful. I can’t help thinking that we’d need fewer chicken nuggets if we had better signage.