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How to hack your time at PHL, according to frequent business travelers

By January 10, 2024No Comments

This column originally appeared in The Inquirer


As a consultant and speaker with family in the U.K. I travel to and from PHL more than 100 times a year. Throughout my travels, I’ve learned that flying out of PHL late morning or early afternoon is best — the security lines are always shorter.

Even better: Get TSA PreCheck and always go to Terminal C. Only travelers with TSA PreCheck are allowed through this security checkpoint, so there are less crowds there by default. Terminal C is also in the middle of the airport with equal access everywhere.

I’ve collected my best tips, along with those of other frequent business travelers to make your experience at PHL as good as it can be.

Plan ahead

Rita Friedman, a Philadelphia-based career coach who frequently uses PHL to visit clients and family, recommends checking the airport website before you travel.

“It has a fantastic dashboard on the homepage that shows security wait times at each terminal, where to go for PreCheck, and any closure info about parking garages, along with flight trackers and other resources,” she said.

If the wait at your terminal is long, Friedman said, “you don’t always have to enter the terminal where you’re flying from. If a wait time is less at another terminal, enter there and then make your way back to your gate.”

I recommend calling your airline ahead for a wheelchair or other transport if you have mobility challenges. Other than a shuttle bus to and from Terminal F, PHL has no other forms of internal transportation so you’ll be walking a lot.

And for nursing parents, “there are four Mamava pods throughout the terminals plus there’s a built-in lactation suite near the food court between Terminals B and C,” Friedman said.

Getting there and getting home

“If you drive, take a picture of your parking floor and space,” said Chuck Styles, a Philadelphia-based visual artist, painter and designer, who travels frequently for client projects and events. “I’ve had a few nightmares in the past waiting in the TSA line that wrapped through the halls in which I found myself standing feet away from where I parked my car. The photo of your parking spot is an easy reminder that you’ll thank yourself later for after a long red eye flight.”

Sometimes when your flight arrives late at night (and especially at Terminal F), there are no cabs waiting and you’re going to be disappointed if you think a ride will just show up. Be sure to ask the attendant (there’s usually one there) to call you a cab.

Speaking of cabs, I prefer them over Ubers and Lyfts. There’s usually less of a wait and, depending on where you’re going (especially if your destination is Center City), the cost is pretty comparable.

Get connected

Try to avoid using PHL’s WiFi. In fact, try to avoid all public WiFi wherever you travel — they are huge security risks. Use your mobile hotspot instead. If you have to use PHL’s WiFi make sure you have a virtual private network application installed to encrypt your data.

Outlets are still hard to come by, but the situation is getting better. Look for the special workstations that are scattered throughout all terminals with electrical ports for plugs and USB connectors.

And, a sign of the times, ATMs are becoming rarer at PHL (and the fees charged seem to be higher than elsewhere). If you want to bring extra cash with you when you travel, it’s best to get it beforehand.

Seek out perks and amenities

Suzanne Wolko, a consultant and travel blogger from the area, said when she travels on British Airways, “I use the BA lounge which has a fantastic team serving hot and cold food along with a range of snacks and self-service wine/alcohol.”

Other lounges may be available based on your credit cards or loyalty programs.

Friedman notes that the American Express Centurion Lounge, located in Terminal A, ”has very tasty food but I’ve heard from a few people that it reaches capacity on busy travel days. There are also several American Airlines Admirals clubs as well as Delta, United, and British Air lounges.”

The Centurion Lounge “also has a shower available which neither BA nor American Airlines has,” Wolko said. “I’ve also used the AA lounges which are vast and have quiet spaces to work or chill before your flight.”

Take a look around

Pay attention to all the art at PHL from local artists, recommends Styles.

“A few good art friends of mine have murals within PHL, including King Saladeen and Serena Saunders. Art is necessary to help bring life into an airport space to keep morale up especially when traveling can feel overwhelming or exhausting,” he said.

You may even find art in unexpected places: “If you have time to kill while you’re waiting for your suitcase to arrive, staring at the Rube Goldberg Machine down near baggage claim is an easy way to zone out as you ponder the infinite loop of the conveyor belt,” said Friedman.

Where to eat

“If you’re flying late you might want to get something to eat before you arrive at PHL,” warns Friedman. “Most everything is closed by 10 p.m., if not considerably earlier. Also remember to fill your water bottle when you see a station — you might not pass another.”

I recommend leaving extra time if you’re a Chick-fil-A fan: the lines are always the biggest here at the food court between Terminals B and C. And don’t forget they’re closed on Sundays, too.

All of my fellow frequent travelers recommended grabbing some grub at local favorites that have opened up PHL outposts, including Chickie’s and Pete’s, Geno’s Steaks, Lamberti’s Italian Trattoria, Jim’s South St. Famous Cheesesteaks, Bud & Marilyn’s, and Yards Brewing.

“Those are Philly eats you will not get in any other airport,” Styles said.

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