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What are Cell Phone Parking Lots?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 23, 2024
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Cell phone parking lots, located within five minutes of major airport terminals, are intended to reduce airport congestion. Motorists coming to the airport for arriving passengers can go to one of the nearby lots to wait. Once the arriving party reaches the terminal sidewalk with luggage in hand, he or she calls the driver, and the waiting motorist can be curbside within minutes to quickly pick up the traveler and be on their way.

Since the attacks on New York’s World Trade Center in 2001, airport security has been a great concern. Cars are no longer allowed to linger outside terminals in loading zones, forcing motorists to circle the area again and again while waiting for arriving parties. This causes congestion and slow-moving traffic and encourages accidents.

In response, many people turned to their cell phones to avoid the problem. At the Philadelphia Airport, motorists began parking along an airport off-ramp waiting for calls from arriving passengers. Many received tickets, and the illegal practice made it difficult to police the airport and adjacent areas properly. At other airports across the U.S., motorists were using nearby hotel parking lots, gas stations, and mini-marts to wait for calls. Cell phone parking lots became a virtual necessity.

Designated lots make it easier for law enforcement to control and monitor areas surrounding airports. Moreover, airport traffic moves smoother, faster, and more efficiently, as people approaching the terminals already know their party is waiting. Motorists are able to get in and out quickly and easily, whether dropping parties off or picking them up. Some cell phone lots even provide a large-screen arrival board with flight schedules, delays, and landings. Motorists must stay in their cars, and some lots impose a one-hour time limit.

Cell phone parking lots have been in use since 2004. The pilot program launched in 13 airports, including the Los Angeles International Airport, the Seattle-Tacoma Airport, the Houston Airport, and the Philadelphia Airport. People can find out if their local airport has one and where it is by calling the airport's information line or check online. Airports that do not have available space nearby might not have a designated lot.

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Discussion Comments

By anon944939 — On Apr 09, 2014

I drive a limo. I've been to JFK and Newark. I've used their cell phone lots and have had no issue. However, when I went to pick up a client at Philadelphia's International airport, I was hit with a $100 ticket. The officer told me that the area was only for personal vehicles and that there was a zero tolerance policy for taxis and limos. I was told that I had to park in a lot.

If their main concern was security and congestion, wouldn't it make more sense for them to keep more vehicles outside of their main area? I'm just venting as there were no clear signs directing me to do differently at the time.

By turquoise — On Nov 25, 2013

@ZipLine-- As far as I know, there is no charge to use a cell phone parking lot. I've used the ones in Los Angeles and Washington D.C. and neither had a fee. I think this applies to all US airports. But they do have a limited time frame, which is usually two hours.

The fact that it's free is actually the major reason why cars prefer to use the cell phone parking lot. That and finding a parking lot near the arrivals gate is a huge pain sometimes.

You just have to make sure that the person who's arriving calls you only when they're outside of the airport and ready to go. Because cars are not allowed to stall and wait, even for a few minutes in front of the airport in most cases.

By ZipLine — On Nov 24, 2013

Do I have to pay to use a cell phone airport parking lot?

By literally45 — On Nov 24, 2013

I have not flown out of an airport with a cell phone parking lot but it sounds like a great idea.

I always feel bad about making people wait when I arrive at an airport because I never seem to get out on time. Even if the flight lands on time, sometimes it takes very long for the plane to park. It takes forever to get off of large flights and then there is more waiting for baggage. This means that friends and family who come to pick me up have to wait around for at least half an hour. If there is an empty parking lot that day, it's fine. But if it's a busy day, then it can be a problem.

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