PHILADELPHIA -- It used to be you would circle the airport loop, get chased away from baggage claim by police, or park precariously on the shoulder of ramps and roadways including Interstate 95 and Route 291.
That was before Philadelphia International Airport opened a convenient 150-space cell phone waiting lot in December 2009 on airport property -- just one minute from the terminals.
Great. Terrific. Handy. Easy to find. And, best of all, free. Drivers interviewed among the 80 to 100 cars streaming into the lot earlier this month were enthusiastic.
"It's wonderful to have this and not have to go into short-term parking, and worry that if the flight is delayed, you will have to pay extra," said Jamie Kravec of West Chester, waiting for the "I'm here" call from her boyfriend, flying in from Seattle.
"There's less hassle. We used to sit out on the highway waiting for people," said Joyce Miller of Townsend, Del., who with her husband, Arthur, was picking up a family member from Tennessee.
"It's beautiful that they've got all these flight display boards," she said. "It's a sign of the times. We all use cell phones."
Since tighter post-Sept. 11, security, cell phone lots -- free parking areas where people picking up travelers can wait -- have sprung up at many of the largest U.S. airports.
"The word has gotten out, and it's been very well-received," said Keith Brune, deputy director of Philadelphia airport operations.
Between 4 and 10 p.m., when Philadelphia airport is busiest, the cell phone lot consistently has 75 or 80 cars -- and is 100 percent full around holidays.
With a dozen signs directing motorists to the spot, state police are issuing fewer tickets to drivers parked illegally.
But old habits die hard -- and some cars still congregate haphazardly on roadways.
"I am told that we are still having an issue with people parking on the side of roads," said state police Capt. James P. Raykovitz.
The issue boiled up in August 2009, when state police began enforcing a no-parking law on the I-95 ramps and began issuing tickets. The next month city officials announced a new designated cell phone area -- and clear signs for reaching it -- would be built on the airport "arrivals" road opposite the Terminal A parking garages.
Improving traffic safety and congestion was a key motive. Since 9/11, the Transportation Security Administration has not allowed cars to dwell at baggage claim.
Cell phone lots in other cities range from just a paved lot to providing portable toilets, electronic flight display screens, food, and free WiFi.
The Charlotte, N.C., airport has two cell phone lots; Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport has three.
Pittsburgh International offers the first hour of parking for free in the "extended-term" parking lot; the second hour costs $1.
Some airports impose a time limit to discourage drivers from lingering. Others, including Philadelphia, require drivers to be with their cars at all times.
The airport in Portland, Ore., is seeking a developer to build a fuel, convenience store, and fast-food "travel center" where those waiting for flights can grab coffee and fill up their gas tank while keeping tabs on a flight's status.
Cincinnati's airport plans to put a gas station at its entrance road with a larger waiting area, convenience store and a Subway or Dunkin' Donuts, said Paul Hegedus, the airport's vice president of commercial management.
Denver International Airport will relocate its cell phone lot next to a gas station and a Wendy's.
"When the new waiting area opens this fall, it will have a food court with a Subway, Dunkin' Donuts, Baja Fresh Mexican Grill and Zpizza," said airport spokeswoman Julie Smith.