Long check-in lines, extra long security lines and early baggage check-in requirements have already started causing the time one has to reach he airport before the actual flight time, to get up there. It is not unreasonable to have to be at the airport at least 45 minutes before a domestic flight, if you have no bags to check and 90 minutes if you do. For international flights, three hours before your flight is the recommended time to be at the airport. Another factor that can notch up this time is airport parking. More specifically, cheap airport parking.
The Parking Business:
Airports too are in the money making business. Parking fees is a big source of revenue for them. The parking rates seem to be going up all the time. This is especially true for parking that is close to an airport. At my home airport – Washington Dulles (IAD), the parking that is right in front of the main terminal is only hourly parking and the rate is up there at $36 if you park for a full day. It goes down to around $20 for the daily parking decks. Those decks are either a long walk or a shuttle ride to the terminal. If you want economy parking, it is cheaper, but a very long shuttle ride away. So, factor the time for the waiting for the shuttle and the actual shuttle ride into your math. This does not include the time it takes to find a parking spot. At Dulles airports massive economy parking lot complex (and it is a large and it is complex), it is not uncommon to have to drove thru whole, multiple lots to find a spot. My suppressed memory is reminding me that the only flight I have ever missed in my life was because of that economy parking lot. Worse, it happened when we were leaving for our holidays to Orlando, with the kids! I end up parking in the hourly lot often. Really whenever it comes down to choosing between paying the high fee or missing my flight, guess which one I pick.
Airports have also started providing valet parking for people in a hurry who don’t want the hassle of finding a parking spot. Great service, but for a very high fee. I guess I may use them once I become a Multi-millionaire, but then I want my own jet. Good thing about having your own jet I guess is that you never miss the flight and you never lose any bags.
Some airports, including Dulles, have introduced some technology to help you find a parking spot. At Dulles it is only there for the Daily parking decks. Essentially, for each floor of the parking deck, there is LED screen that shows how many slots are still empty. That allows you to choose the right floor. For the economy lots, it is still the old fashioned way of going up and down the parking aisles looking for a spot that looks empty, only to find a Mini Cooper parked in it. I hate Minis.
Pre-paid parking services allow you to pre-pay and reserve a parking slot at a parking lot of your choice. The idea is that you pay for the parking in advance. You lower your fee by doing so and pre-select the lot you will be parking in. I assume, they will ensure that you will have a spot there. Don’t know if they tell you which spot or you still have to hunt for it yourself. While there are several pre-paid such parking services in the US, they seem to be more prevalent in the UK. For example, according to one of my readers, if you are looking to reserve a slot in any of the lots in the Newcastle airport parking in the UK, which is notorious for lack of parking, you can save up quite a bit by pre-paying. The discounts in the US do not appear to be this high. Some of these services though, do give airline miles.
The best solution is of course to get ‘Princess Parked’ – be dropped off at the curb my someone. This would require that someone else drive all the way upto the airport to drop you off and then pick you up. The savings in time and parking fees need to be balanced against the cost of gas to drive to the airport and the value of the time of the person driving out there to pick you up. Taxi cabs or Shuttle services are an option if one lives close to the airport. MY experience with both those option has been that I need to budget even more time to factor in delays by the taxi or shuttle. Shuttles may also make stops along the way as they pick up more passengers.