One of the great frustrations of many travelers flying from

Philadelphia International Airport

is finding a place to park a car. Especially at school-vacation time, both the economy lot and daily-fee garages can be full, forcing the panicked driver to roam the roads around the airport looking for a private lot. Leaving the car at home and using public transportation is an option, but isn't practical for most people.

The best way we've found to deal with the problem is to use one of more than a dozen off-airport lots that surround PHL, on Route 291 (Industrial Highway) and on Bartram, Essington, Island and Passyunk avenues. These privately operated lots always seem to have space available, and they have the great advantage of taking advance reservations. Unlike PHL's on-airport lots and garages, the off-sites can be booked and the fees paid in advance on the Web using a credit card.

Rates for off-airport lots are competitive with the $9 a day in PHL's economy lot. The daily fee can range from about $6.50 to $15 a day, but if you make a reservation online, there's usually a one-time service fee of $5.

The most comprehensive airport parking Web site we've found is - what else - www.airportparkingreservations.com. Another one is www.parkrideflyusa.com. They have long lists of U.S. and Canadian airports that are part of their networks. When you do a Google search for "airport parking reservations," you will find those two, and other sites with different addresses that link to the first.

You can also find Web sites for individual parking-lot operators at PHL and elsewhere - if you know their names. We have been unsuccessful in navigating to airport-parking sites from the larger online travel sites, including Expedia and Orbitz. But that may just be our lack of time and patience to keep drilling until we find them.

Tom Lombardi, the Suffield, Conn., entrepreneur who runs airportparkingreservations.com, says his site has 200 parking lots at 65 airports in its database, including eight near PHL. Business has boomed at PHL since Southwest started three years ago and parking became tighter. Travelers tend to use off-airport lots regularly after one experience of "going to the economy lot, and it's full, and the sweat starts," Lombardi says.

The off-airport lots may be a little farther from the PHL terminals than the airport economy lot, including some that are a mile or two away. But they have another advantage: service.

Some parking operators have valet service, driving you back and forth in your own car. Most have shuttle buses that, in our experience, pull up behind your car, and not to a bus stop a hundred yards away, within a few minutes of your arrival.

Every time we've used one of the lots and have had more than one bag, the shuttle-bus driver has hopped off and helped us. We always carry $1 bills for tips to encourage the practice.

Last week's post, "Our air service backyard," prompted as many comments as any topic we've put on the blog. Most of them attacked the point we made. We're glad someone cares, and invite you to keep 'em coming.

US Airways' dismal March performance, in contrast, elicited no response. Was it a case of "So what else is new?"

The late-winter weather and US Airways' bungled switch to a new computer system caused so many delays it pushed PHL near the bottom of the list of the 32 largest airports for on-time flights. Systemwide, the airline finished the month with the worst on-time performance and the greatest numbers of misplaced bags and complaints to the U.S. Department of Transportation among major carriers.

To read Tom Belden's Philly Road Warrior blog, visit http://blogs.phillynews.com/inquirer/roadwarrior.EndText

Contact staff writer Tom Belden at 215-854-2454 or tbelden@phillynews.com

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