July 20, 2000 --If you've flown on business this summer, then you already know the unvarnished truth: Planes are packed, airports are crowded and parking lots are often jammed to capacity.
That last fact is particularly distressing because crowded airport access roads and overflowing parking lots could cause you to miss a flight and destroy an otherwise carefully planned business trip.
But there are a few ways to ease the airport parking congestion. You need to do a little homework and think a little more creatively, but you can beat the airport parking blues. Here's how to do it.
KNOW YOUR PARKING OPTIONS
Business travelers are creatures of habit and they tend only to park at familiar places at the airport. Don't be a prisoner of familiarity. Do a little research and learn all of the parking options at your hometown airport. The Internet is an excellent research tool for this purpose. Most airports maintain a Web site and many lavish extra attention to their parking-information pages. Surfing to your airport's web site is likely to yield several parking options you didn't know about and a few strategies you'd never have imagined. How do you find your airport's web page? Try FrequentFlier.com, which maintains an alphabetized series of links to airport web sites. Want to jump directly to the parking information? Try the appropriately named Airport-Parking.com. It links you directly to the parking pages of the web sites of dozens of leading airports.
SCOUT OUT UNIQUE PARKING LOCATIONS
It's a well-kept secret, but many hotels and car-rental firms located on or near airport grounds offer parking to transient business travelers. These "park and lock" options include a competitive daily rate, shuttle-bus service to and from your airport terminal and often an extra perk like a free newspaper or a fresh cup of coffee. Some places will even wash your car while you're gone! How do you find them? Look around. Next time you're driving to the airport, make note of the nearby hotels and car-rental lots. Then call and ask if they have a transient-parking package. You'll be surprised how many offer exactly such a service.
PARK OFF THE AIRPORT
Every major airport now has at least one so-called "off-airport" parking service located just off the airport grounds or on a nearby street. These private facilities usually charge a few dollars more than on-airport parking lots, but they offer a lot of service for the premium. For starters, most private lots are located before the most crowded airport access roads, thus saving you the hassle of negotiating the most frustrating part of an airport drive. Many facilities offer covered parking and valet service. Most private lots have employees to help you unload your luggage and every one offers quick, convenient shuttle service directly to your departure terminal. (They'll also pick you up at your arrival terminal at the end of your business trip.) Finding an off-airport specialist is easy: Just look for their signs as you're driving to the airport or tap into the Web site of one of the fast-growing national chains of off-airport specialists. Among them are Avistar in the Northeast; The Parking Spot in the Midwest and Texas; and Parking Company of America, with lots at airports throughout the Sunbelt.
CONSIDER LEAVING YOUR CAR HOME
No matter what the oft-quoted "experts" claim, driving your own vehicle to the airport is usually the most convenient and cost-effective way to get to or from your flights. But if you're traveling light--no more than a small garment bag and your briefcase--public transportation may be a good way to go. Terminally Hip, available at Concierge.com, details the public-transit options available for more than a hundred airports. You may find a mass-transit scenario that works for you.