Morgan Davis and her young daughter Madison arrived at Philadelphia International Airport more than four hours before their flight to North Carolina was set to depart Friday. They wanted to avoid traffic and security lines.
“I assume a holiday weekend means a whole bunch of people and just chaos everywhere,” said Davis, who had her mother drop her off to avoid parking pains.
According to airport officials, travelers don’t have to be quite as early as Davis, but on this busy travel weekend, she has the right mindset.
Airport officials expect to see 414,000 passengers coming and going between Thursday and Wednesday — a total that’s 16% lower than 2019 traffic, but 9% higher than levels last year.
PHL estimates that Friday will be its busiest day of the holiday weekend, with about 89,000 arriving and departing passengers.
After a relatively smooth morning and early afternoon, a PHL spokesperson attributed a late-afternoon surge in delayed flights to weather. By 6 p.m. more than 20% of outgoing flights experienced delays, according to the flight tracking site Flight Aware.
» READ MORE: Traveling through PHL this summer? Here’s what to know.
Crystal Sojo and Michelle Franchi say gone are the days of the pandemic when you could sail through bag check and security checkpoints.
“Things are definitely picking up. I took my daughter to Florida two weeks ago and it was definitely busier compared to how it’s been in the past two years,” said Sojo as the pair waited in line to get through PHL security and one step closer to their Nashville girls’ weekend.
For frequent travelers like Nicole Lawrence, efficiency is the key to a stress-free trip. Lawrence carried only a small backpack with the necessities for her trip to Orlando.
“I figured I’d just buy stuff there because I didn’t want my luggage to get lost,” she explained, before securing a spot in line just as a surge of travelers joined her in the queue. The estimated time to get through security ticked up from 17 to 22 minutes.
The airport recommends that flyers arrive two and a half to three hours before their boarding time to adjust for the influx of passengers. PHL also warns that on-site parking remains “extremely limited,” despite recently reopened spaces in the economy lot, which had closed in the early days of the pandemic.
More than a half dozen private lots offer parking for passengers, while PHL “strongly” encourages passengers to instead get dropped off by friends and family, or use ridesharing apps or public transportation.
Of course, there are some things beyond the airport and travelers’ control. Several travelers reported feeling nervous about being on overbooked flights as their phones were flooded with airline messages offering them vouchers if they gave up their seats.
And with continued staffing problems at airlines, including a pilot shortage, some travelers worried their flights might get canceled last minute and leave them scrambling, like Rebecca Bha who was headed to a wedding.
Bha roamed the airport Friday morning after her connecting flight to Lisbon had been canceled the night before, a mere 10 minutes before boarding, she said, unclear of what caused the cancellation.
She tried to be sympathetic to the two customer service workers tasked to help the more than 100 people left stranded, but the whole experience had left her dejected.
“I haven’t had an experience like this where you don’t feel supported at all,” she said.