Why You Should Never Park at the Airport

never park at airport

It was a brisk fall morning, and I was anxiously running late for my flight to Denver, harried thoughts consuming my mind as I navigated my way towards the airport parking garage. Despite arriving what I thought was plenty early, I soon found myself hopelessly trapped in a maze of construction cones, awkwardly trying to merge into the snaking line of cars inching their way toward the entrance kiosks.

Of course, I had procrastinated buying my parking pass online, so I was forced to queue up behind what felt like hundreds of other frustrated travelers, watching the minutes tick away as the line crawled forward at an agonizingly slow pace. By the time I finally reached the ticket booth attendant’s window, my face was practically pressed against the glass, eyes pleading as I hastily swiped my credit card and grabbed the stamped parking voucher.

Then began the real fun – the seemingly endless loops around each level of the cavernous garage, craning my neck and squinting in vain to locate any fleeting glimpse of an empty spot. The few open spaces I did spy were always just out of reach, instantly snatched up by another more cunning driver who had spotted them first.

At long last, I resigned myself to parking in one of the outer lots, a vast wasteland of cars stretching towards the horizon. Lugging my overstuffed suitcase across the scorching hot pavement, I couldn’t help but glance forlornly at the terminal in the distance, wishing I had listened to the voice in my head warning me not to park at the airport in the first place.

If that all-too-familiar experience doesn’t convince you to avoid airport parking at all costs, I don’t know what will! Unless you truly have no other choice, I cannot emphasize enough how adamantly I discourage engaging in this widespread travel woe. While it may sometimes feel like the path of least resistance or even a necessary evil, the truth is parking at the airport virtually guarantees you’ll be in for hidden costs, stress, and headaches galore.

busy carpark at airport

The Hidden Costs of Airport Parking

Exorbitant Parking Fees

One of the biggest pitfalls of airport parking is the exorbitant fees they charge, especially if you plan to leave your car for more than just a couple of days. I learned this the hard way on a recent trip to Los Angeles, where I naively decided to just pay for parking at LAX rather than explore alternatives.

For my measly five-day vacation, I ended up shelling out a whopping $120 to park in the economy lot. One hundred and twenty dollars! For comparison, my flight itself only cost $250 roundtrip. So, almost a third of what I paid for my airfare went straight towards airport parking fees alone.

And unfortunately, LAX is far from an outlier when it comes to pricey parking. The parking rates at many major airports can range anywhere from $20 to $40 per day for short-term lots right near the terminals, while long-term economy lots will still run you $10-$20 per day on average. For any trip longer than just a couple of days, you’re almost guaranteed to get gouged with fees that will make your eyes water.

Extra Fuel Costs

But wait, there’s more! In addition to the exorbitant parking fees, there’s also the added expense of driving to and from the airport itself. Depending on where you live in relation to the airport, you could easily be burning through an extra gallon or two of gas just getting there and back before your trip even starts.

I vividly remember a time I was departing for an international flight from Newark Airport, which is over 50 miles away from my home in Pennsylvania. Between the drive there, circling forever to find an open spot, and then returning from the economy lot upon my arrival back home late at night, I must have easily wasted half a tank of gas just on airport parking transportation alone. And with today’s volatile fuel prices hovering around $4 per gallon, those “little” costs really add up quickly.

Increased Risk of Damage or Theft

As if the fees and fuel charges weren’t enough, airport parking lots and garages are also prime targets for car break-ins, dings, dents, and other costly mishaps. After all, thieves know that many of those vehicles will be sitting there completely unattended for days or even weeks at a time, making them ripe for the picking.

I learned this truth the hard way a few years back, when I returned from a long camping trip out west to find my car had been broken into, with a window smashed and the entire interior rummaged through. Valuables were stolen, glass was everywhere, and I was left having to file an insurance claim and go through the whole rigmarole of fixing the damage and getting a rental car in the interim. It was a complete and total nightmare, to say the least.

But even if your car somehow emerges from airport parking unscathed from thieves, there’s always the risk of dings from careless drivers swinging open their doors, dents from runaway luggage carts, or countless other opportunities for accidental damage to occur in those chaos-filled lots. At the end of the day, do you really want to risk the hassle, expenses and heartache of having your ride harmed while you’re away? I know I don’t, not after the incidents I’ve experienced.

The Stress and Hassle

Hunting for a Spot

Raise your hand if you’ve ever circled an airport parking garage what feels like a hundred times, sweat starting to bead on your brow while you desperately search for that elusive open parking spot? Raises hand sheepishly. Yeah, I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve found myself in that ultra-stressful scenario, aggressively puttering along in a long line of equally frustrated drivers, jealously eyeing anyone who dares exit their space and quickly pouncing like a starved vulture.

I’ll never forget one particularly maddening experience at Chicago O’Hare, where despite arriving at the ungodly hour of 4:30 am thinking I’d easily find parking, I spent nearly 45 minutes pathetically circling the lots, growing increasingly panicked as my flight time crept closer and closer. By the time I finally located a spot, I was sweating through my shirt and forced to do that silly double-parked car shuffle, rolling down my window to passive-aggressively ask the person waiting behind me if they could just “give me one dang minute!” Fun times.

And even when you do finally aceept defeat and snag that elusive parking space? Well, get ready for the second half of the nightmare – lugging all your heavy bags halfway across the aerotropolis just to make it to your actual terminal on time. Nothing says “Welcome to your vacation!” like spending 45 minutes hunting for a spot, then immediately breaking a sweat, schlepping your suitcases for what feels like miles.

Remembering Where You Parked

Okay, so let’s say you somehow managed to find a parking spot without having a mental breakdown or missing your flight entirely. Surely remembering where you parked can’t be that difficult, right?

Airport parking lots are like vast concrete labyrinths designed to induce parking amnesia, making you forget exactly where you stashed your vehicle days or weeks later. We’ve all been there – wandering aimlessly after a long trip, squinting at endless rows of lookalike cars, silently wishing we had planted a homing beacon to guide us back.

One of my most vivid memories of this special circle of hell was after a 10-day road trip out west. When I finally returned to Pittsburgh International Airport around midnight, thoroughly exhausted from our travels, I spent a solid hour aimlessly roaming around the economy parking lot trying to relocate my car. I wish I could say I’m exaggerating, but I’m really not – I literally walked up and down every aisle, double checking each row in growing desperation. When I at last spotted those blessed familiar hubcaps peeking out from between a giant pickup truck, I could have collapsed from relief right there on the spot.

Hauling Luggage Long Distances

Even if you do miraculously remember where you parked, get ready to embark on a forced march hauling your luggage what feels like miles to the terminal. This “joy” is equally arduous whether you’re leaving or returning from your travels.

On the departure end, you’re already lugging cumbersome suitcases, bags, car seats, strollers, and who knows what else, zig-zagging between parking rows as you make the exhausting trek from your obscurely parked car toward the terminal. By the time you finally reach your airline check-in counter, you’re already drenched in sweat and questioning your life choices.

Then on the arrivals side, after enduring a long flight squeezed into those tiny seats like a sardine, the last thing you want is to be forced to hoof it with all your luggage halfway across the airport property. Yet that’s exactly what awaits you in most cases, as you zombie-shuffle behind a bazillion other exhausted passengers, struggling with your bags and wondering how the heck far you’re going to have to walk this time.

I’ll never forget that trip to Miami, where we landed from Boston just before midnight and were among the last passengers to disembark our delayed flight. Although the arrivals area was eerily deserted, I knew the instant I saw that dreadfully long walk from the gate down the terminal that the journey was far from over. Sure enough, it was like a cruel marathon to the outer reaches of the parking lots, each step heavier than the last as I desperately tried to remember where I had parked my darn car.

Better Alternatives to Airport Parking

Public Transportation

So after hearing those horror stories, I’m sure it’s becoming clearer why airport parking is something you’ll want to avoid at all costs moving forward. But what are the better alternatives, you ask?

For starters, why not consider taking public transportation to the airport instead? Many major cities have reliable rail, bus, or shuttle services that can get you directly to the airport terminals for a mere fraction of what you’d pay to park there.

For example, here in Philadelphia we have the SEPTA Airport Regional Rail Line that offers a direct 25-minute trip from downtown right into the airport for just $6.75 each way. Compare that to upwards of $25 per day for parking alone, and it’s a no-brainer which is the better option from a cost perspective.

And don’t even get me started on the hassle and stress factor – pulling your luggage directly onto the train and getting dropped off at the terminal doorstep is infinitely more relaxing than dealing with the parking madness. Not to mention it’s better for the environment too!

Ride Shares and Taxis

Another increasingly popular alternative to avoid airport parking is simply using ride shares like Uber or Lyft, or taking a traditional taxi cab. I have to admit, as someone who has taken full advantage of this option on numerous occasions now, it really is a game-changer in terms of convenience.

Think about it – you get picked up directly at your home or hotel, you don’t have to worry about leaving your car somewhere, and you get dropped off hassle-free at the departures terminal. No circling endlessly for a spot, no hauling luggage for miles, no trying to remember which obscure aisle you parked in upon your return. Just hop out of your ride, grab your bags, and you’re on your merry way through security.

Sure, taking an Uber or taxi to the airport costs money too. But you have to weigh that cost against the parking fees you’d otherwise be spending, plus the convenience factor. I’ve found many times that a $25-$30 Uber ride ends up being a total wash cost-wise compared to what I’d pay to leave my car at the airport lot. Not to mention the anti-stress benefits!

Friends, Family or Hotel Shuttles

Have a friend, family member, coworker or other generous soul who doesn’t mind shuttling you to and from the airport? Then consider yourself lucky, my friend! Being able to hitch a ride with someone is one of the best airport parking hassle-dodges out there.

Not only do you avoid those pesky parking fees entirely, but you also get to bypass the usual stress involved. Someone else gets to do the driving, navigating, and waiting in any potential arrival chaos. You can simply ride in relaxation, roll your luggage right up to the terminal, and give your personal chauffeur a quick hug goodbye before breezing through to your flight. The return trip at arrivals is equally easy, with a familiar face there to greet you and help get your bags stowed for the ride back home sweet home.

Alternatively, if you’ll be staying in a hotel either before or after your travels, see if your accommodation offers free airport shuttle services as part of a park and fly package. Many hotels near major airports do offer these types of deals, where you can leave your car parked safely on their property for free or a very low fee, then get shuttled to and from your terminal by the hotel van or bus. It’s an awesome way to sidestep the airport parking mess altogether while taking advantage of bundled cost savings.

How to Avoid Airport Parking

Planning Ahead

Alright, so by now I’ve hopefully convinced you that there are indeed better options out there than just resigning yourself to suffering through the airport parking nightmare every time you travel. The slight catch? Most of these alternatives do require a bit more planning and coordination than just mindlessly driving up and leaving your car at the airport lot.

But hear me out – a little extra forethought and proactiveness can go a tremendously long way toward saving you tons of money and frustration around your trips. It’s absolutely worth it to spend 30 minutes mapping out public transit routes, researching shuttle services, scheduling ride shares in advance, or making arrangements with airport hotels for those park and fly packages well ahead of your travel dates.

After all, what’s better – spending a few minutes looking into smarter transportation ahead of time, or spending hours agonizing over outrageous parking fees, hunting for a spot, hauling heavy luggage for miles, and trying to find your darn car after your trip? I think we all know the answer to that one!

Using Apps

Luckily, in today’s increasingly tech-savvy world, there are a plethora of apps and websites that can help you compare all the potential airport transportation options for your specific airport ahead of time.

Services like TravelCar, ParkSleepFly, and others allow you to quickly see parking rates for various lots both on and off airport property. But they go beyond just parking too – you can check rates for nearby hotel park and fly packages, view schedules and fares for trains or shuttles servicing the airport, and even book ride shares like Uber or Lyft well in advance.

Many of these apps and sites also allow you to read candid reviews from fellow travelers about their experiences with each transportation option. That way, you can get a good sense of the typical costs, reliability and convenience factors before booking anything. With a little advanced research, avoiding the dreaded airport parking nightmare has never been easier!

Joining Airport Parking Loyalty Programs

If you’ve read this far and still aren’t fully persuaded to ditch the airport parking habit, well, I suppose I can’t convince everyone. But at the very least, please make sure you join the loyalty or reward program for whichever airports you frequently travel through.

This pro tip can help mildly deflate the sting of those outrageous parking fees. Most major airport parking operations offer rewards programs where, similar to a grocery store loyalty card, you can accumulate credits or points towards freebies like complimentary parking days after you hit certain paid parking thresholds.

Does it make the overall fees any less painful? Not really. But hey, getting a $25 voucher or a handful of free parking days after spending hundreds at that same airport garage over the year is better than nothing. Every little bit of savings helps when it comes to offsetting those unstomachable parking charges.


airplane shoes

At the end of the day, the decision is ultimately yours whether you want to keep subjecting yourself to the almighty travel hassle that is airport parking. Personally, after all the nightmare experiences and hard-earned wisdom I’ve acquired over my years of frequent travel, I avoid it like the plague whenever humanly possible. The fees, the stress, the lugging bags for miles, the fear of damage or theft – it’s all just not worth it to me.

Between options like public transit, taxis or ride shares, hotel shuttles, and good old-fashioned asking friends or family for a lift, there are just so many better, smarter choices out there. Choices that enable you to start and end your travels in a state of zen relaxation rather than frenzied frustration. Your wallet will thank you too, since the alternative parking costs alone could practically pay for another flight!

So do yourself a favor and explore some of those other transportation paths next time you fly. Your future self will look back appreciatively on the saved money, the avoided headaches, and the sigh of relief you’ll breathe not having to deal with the parking madness. Who knows, you may even get to skip that stressful pre-flight ritual of sprinting through terminals and security altogether.

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