My wife and I agree that a major benefit of retirement is the ability to make last minute impulse travel decisions. After 45 years of struggling to squeeze vacation time into a hectic and busy work schedule, the ability to come and go as we please was a welcome respite from our previously congested calendar.
We were able to take full advantage of our newly-found retirement perk until March of 2020 when the pandemic hit. Like much of the rest of the planet, we hunkered down and patiently waited for Operation Warp Speed to provide the world with a vaccine.
Nearly one year later, in February 2021, we were appreciative to receive the first of our Covid vaccinations and quickly received the second shot the following month. Our joy was tempered, however, by the horrendous loss of life and the terrible economic and psychological toll that the pandemic had inflicted on the world and in our region.
We were relieved and grateful as we watched our country slowly and carefully emerge from the cocoon of Covid hibernation. After some discussion, we once again felt comfortable to come and go as we pleased. People were once again moving about, getting on with their lives, and striving to get back to normal.
In mid-September my wife and I woke up one morning and made an impromptu decision to visit our son who is living in the Tampa area. We found competitive airfare that same evening. We quickly packed a couple of carry-on bags, hopped in the car and headed to Philadelphia International Airport. “Where are we going to park?,” my wife asked. “We should have no problem finding a spot in the economy lot,” I replied.
Much to our chagrin, we found that the economy lot was closed.
It was unsettling as we drove by the vast empty economy lot while circling back to the airport. The thought that this lot would still be closed never occurred to me. Why would it be?
Public transportation had been back in full operation for months. People had been flying in and out of the airport all summer (and even before that many braved the air during the height of the pandemic).
“Now what?” my wife nervously asked. “Long Term Parking Garage,” I replied as I tried to conceal my apprehension. When we arrived at the garage, I was relieved not to see the dreaded “lot full” sign. My consolation was short lived, however, as we circled ever higher in the packed garage without seeing even a hint of an open space. As our car spiraled ever upwards, the realization that we might miss our flight if we needed to flee and seek an alternative parking option began to dawn on me. But I was able to take a ticket at the entrance — there must be an empty spot somewhere?
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Suddenly, when it seemed that all hope was lost, we saw a woman walking along pulling a wheeled carry-on behind her. We tailed her, and were relieved to see her unlock her car. I put on my turn signal and waited for her to back out.
A week later we returned to Philadelphia (tan and happy). I went to the airport website to try to understand why the economy lot was closed. There I found a statement that the lot is “temporarily closed,” but no explanation as to why, or when it will reopen.
I found a statement that the lot is ‘temporarily closed,’ but no explanation as to why, or when it will reopen.
A computer programer by trade, I decided to pull some data from the airport website relative to the number of incoming and outgoing domestic flights on a monthly basis. I went back a few years, comparing flights for the third quarter of 2018 to the corresponding quarter of this year. The data indicates that the airport is back to handling 80% of the domestic flights that it handled in 2018. Yet the economy lot, the best option for most travelers, remains closed. Over 7,000 parking spots at the airport are not available to the citizens of the Philadelphia region.
Why is the economy lot still closed? When will it re-open? Is anyone in a position of responsibility and authority even attempting to address this problem?
Or is the closed economy lot at the Philadelphia International Airport a part of our ‘new normal’?
I called the Airport Parking division of the Philadelphia Parking Authority, which runs the economy lot, to get some answers to those questions. I was told: one, the lot has been closed “for about a year.” Two, it is closed because of a “mandate” by the airport due to Covid. Three, that there is no anticipated date for the lot to re-open. Four, there is no plan in place to re-open the lot.
I also reached out over email asking those same questions. I have not received a reply.
The airport is back to handling 80% of pre-Covid domestic flights, and President Biden has just opened up America to vaccinated international travellers, but zero of its over 7,000 economy parking spots are available for use by the people taking those flights. The citizens of the Philadelphia region, and the millions of travelers who use the airport each month, deserve to know why the economy lot remains closed, and exactly when it will reopen.
Jerry Wesner is a retired computer programer and operations manager. He is a Philly native who is enjoying retirement in Glen Mills.
Editors Note: Have you noticed businesses, government agencies or public infrastructure that is still “closed due to Covid”? Share what should be open with us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, with subject line “The New Normal”