Traveling through PHL this summer? Here’s what to know.
How to avoid headaches due to cancellations, delays, crowded check-in and TSA lines, and more when you're flying from PHL this summer
Summer air travel in 2022 was defined by nationwide flight cancellations, delays, long TSA lines, and understaffed airports. As people plan their vacations, they may be wondering if summer 2023 will bring the same issues.
According to Charlie Leocha, co-founder of the consumer advocacy group Travelers United, you can count on delayed flights being a regular occurence, but “it should not be as bad as it was last summer.”
Although the Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) doesn’t expect the number of travelers to be back to pre-pandemic levels until 2025, an increase in passengers is expected compared to 2022. To prevent understaffing issues, they are looking to fill over 70 positions, including bus drivers, mechanics, and servers, said PHL spokesperson Heather Redfern.
But delays are unavoidable. Weather and medical emergencies can easily put a hold on your summer vacation. So, if you are looking to fly this summer, you may need to pack some patience and arrive early.
Here are some tips on how to make traveling through PHL as smooth as possible:
When is it best to fly from PHL?
Monday-Thursday, as early as possible.
Leocha recommends flying as early as possible, before 9 a.m. That gives you a higher chance of your plane being already at the airport, and because not a lot of people fly that early, the lines for check-in and TSA tend to move faster.
Friday, Saturday, and Sunday are the busiest days to fly from PHL, and Terminals D and E tend to be the busiest on those days. So if you’re flying Air Canada, Alaska, Delta, Frontier, Jet Blue, Southwest, Spirit, United, or Sun Country, you probably want to give yourself even more time than you think you’ll need, especially if you have to check-in at the airport or check a bag.
How early should I arrive at PHL?
At least three to four hours before an international flight, and at least 2.5 to 3 hours earlier if you’re flying domestic.
To avoid getting stuck in line and missing your flight, PHL recommends you get to the airport between two and a half to three hours before domestic flights, and at least three to four hours before international flights. That’s the average time you might need to check your luggage, pass security filters and get through checkpoints.
Although PHL has 1,850 parking spots in the economy lot, and a free parking lot for people picking up arriving passengers, you should expect traffic. Don’t try “hopping in the car or taking an Uber two hours before your flight,” says TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein.
Checking a bag at PHL
Travel with a carry-on only, if possible
Leocha recommends avoiding checking a bag if you can. Traveling with a carry-on to avoid check-in lines can save you about 40 to 45 minutes.
At PHL, traveling with a carry-on only may save you even more time. Because the airport is fully connected, you can go through security in one terminal and walk to another, which allows you to choose the shortest line. (The exception: You can’t go through security at Terminal C unless you have TSA PreCheck.) If you check a bag, you have to do it at the terminal you’re flying from.
TSA PreCheck at PHL
If you don’t have TSA PreCheck, it may be worth getting.
TSA PreCheck can speed up your airport process considerably, and can be useful if you travel often. Only U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, and lawful permanent residents can apply. Enrolling costs $78, and processing times can take between three to 90 days, but it lasts for five years.
At PHL, Terminals D and E offer TSA PreCheck, in addition to the regular security screening; Terminal C is PreCheck only.
PHL COVID-19 restrictions
You don’t need to wear a mask.
The federal mask mandate for airports and planes was lifted last spring, but masks were still recommended at PHL. In 2023, the airport is leaving the decision to the passengers. You can still ask for a free mask at any PHL entry point.
For international travelers, COVID-19 restrictions and policies can vary depending on your destination. Remember to check the mask, rapid test, and vaccine requirements of the place you are visiting before traveling — especially because the airport no longer offers on-site testing.
While the Biden administration announced the public health emergency declaration for Covid-19 will end in May, PHL stopped offering the screening service to travelers in December 2022 due to a decrease in testing demand.
Be patient and check for updates
Although the airport is seeking to fill staff, they don’t control airline operations or determine when a flight is delayed. It’s a good idea to check the status of your flight at phl.org or on your airline’s app before you head to the airport.
What to do if your flight is delayed or canceled
Leocha suggests figuring out what options your airliner offers for delayed flights. “If you don’t ask, you may not get any help,” Leocha said. He recommends checking the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Airline Customer Service Dashboard.
This resource puts all U.S airlines in one place for both fee-free family seating, cancellations, and delays policies. “It gives you a guide approved by every airline for the first time,” Leocha added.
The dashboard can help you figure out if your flight carrier offers any accommodations when delays within the airline’s control happen, including rebooking, meals, hotels, and refunds.
Airlines such as American, Alaska, Delta, JetBlue, and United offer rebooking at no additional cost, meals if your flight is delayed longer than three hours, and hotel and ground transportation for overnight delays.