Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition
Feeling terminal stress?
Time-saving tips if your stomach churns as your South Florida airport journey approaches
FORT LAUDERDALE — As we pack our suitcases, thrilled to get out of town, a feeling of dread also surfaces: First we have to make our way through South Florida’s airports.
For some, the process — arrival in the terminal, drop-off of suitcases and security checks — is hassle-free and even a pleasure. Others feel anxiety, stress and heart palpitations as they ponder finding a place to park, long lines and potentially lost luggage.
These challenges are compounded during the crowded winter tourist season at our airports, Palm Beach International, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International and Miami International. Besides getting off to explore our beaches, many passengers are about to board a cruise or changing planes on their way to worldwide destinations. Miami now is officially home to Florida’s busiest airport, with 13.3 million more passengers last year than in 2021.
If you do find your stomach churning as your airport journey approaches, here are some ways to avoid long waits and save time picking up your guests.
Should you park at the airport, take the train or hire a ride service?
If you want to splurge on long-term parking on-site, it costs $13 at PBI. At FLL, it’s $15 a day, and in Miami, $25 a day.
Another solution is Tri-Rail, which goes directly to MIA. You will have to take connector buses if you’re headed to PBIA or FLL. Prices range from $2.50 to $8.75, depending on the length of your ride.
Tri-Rail is the way to go for Harry Woodworth of Boynton Beach, who responded to a South Florida Sun Sentinel query in the Facebook group “Boynton Beach RAW.”
“Tri-Rail is absolutely THE way to avoid all the traffic and parking issues at FLL and MIA,” he said.
Brightline train service has airport shuttles that leave hourly, and a free service called Brightline+ that offers private or
shared rides if you have an additional destination after arrival, including the airport. One-way fares on Brightline start at $10, and depending on time of day and whether you want a first-class ticket, go as high as $27.
Broward County Transit can get you to FLL through its Route 1 bus, which also goes to the Aventura Mall and Young Circle in Hollywood. One-way cash fare is $2.
For PBI, you can take Amtrak to West Palm Beach and get a shuttle to the airport, or use Palm Beach County’s public bus system, Palm Tran, which has several lines that go to the airport and costs $2. Details: amtrakguide.com/stations and palmtran.org.
Arrive super early
Three hours early? That’s the advice from Miami International, which has this message posted on its website: “We are experiencing an increase in travelers, and our parking garages are reaching capacity on Thursdays to Saturdays. Please arrive at least 3 hours before your flight and consider alternate ways to get to MIA.”
Palm Beach advises two hours, and Fort Lauderdale two hours at a minimum.
“It’s generally recommended during peak travel/holiday periods to arrive at least two hours before your departure time for domestic flights and three hours if flying internationally. It’s best to follow any updated guidance from your airline, as they may require additional time for check-in and bag processing,” FLL spokeswoman Arlene Satchell said. “Security processing lines may also be longer due to increased holiday passenger traffic. If planning to park on- or off-airport, extra time also needs to be factored in.”
Long waits at baggage claim
You’re so glad to have made it to the airport, but then the wait for your luggage seems interminable. The national average for baggage wait times ranges from 10 to 50 minutes, PBI spokeswoman Nicole Hughes said. She said the wait time at PBI is generally between 10 and 20 minutes. FLL and MIA were not able to provide their average baggage claim wait times.
Dropping suitcases off also can seem to take forever. Many travelers have started bringing carry-on luggage to avoid lines as well as steep airline fees.
Crowded cellphone lots?
Some drivers stress out as they wonder if the cellphone lot, which allows you to wait in your car at no cost as your passengers deplane, will have any spots left.
But it never fills up at MIA, according to spokesman Greg Chin: “Our cellphone lot has 60 spaces and has never reached capacity.”
In Palm Beach: “There is ample parking available, including covered parking located under a solar canopy,” PBI spokeswoman Hughes said.
The 50 spaces at FLL do fill up during peak travel periods, spokeswoman Satchell said. Here’s an alternative: Park in the short-term parking garage, which is free for the first 20 minutes. You could walk over to the terminal to greet your guests or have them trek to the garage to meet you.
Travel on off days
When you have to fly to a meeting or a family event, it may be impossible to choose a day when the airport is less crowded. But if you have flexibility, avoid MIA on Thursdays through Saturdays, the airport’s busiest travel days.
At PBI, Wednesday is the quietest day, Hughes said. “Looking back over the past month, Sunday and Monday are consistently pretty busy,” she said. “Wednesday is generally slow.”
Fort Lauderdale’s airport has fewer passengers on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, Satchell said.
“Generally, Tuesday and Wednesday are the less busy travel days of the week at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, except when these midweek days fall on or during peak holiday periods,” she said.
An added bonus: Tuesdays and Wednesdays are also the least expensive days to fly, along with Saturday, according to Travel Planners International.
Driving through the airport
Whether you’re dropping off or picking up, traffic tends to slow to a crawl as your car makes its way to your terminal. Creative drivers have come up with a hack: Drop off passengers at “Arrivals” and pick up at “Departures.”
The theory is that crowds of cars pile up at “Departures” as flights are getting ready to leave, making the “Arrivals” terminal potentially less crowded at that moment. This strategy is not discouraged by airport officials.
“During peak holiday travel periods, we encourage airport patrons to consider picking up arriving guests from the ‘Departures’ (upper-level) roadway when able, as the ‘Arrivals’ (lower-level) lanes can become congested with ‘meet & greet’ traffic and other ground transportation activity,” Satchell said. “We typically encourage this option during peak travel times such as the recent Christmas/New Year holiday season.”
This is also a favorite strategy of Uber and limo drivers.
On your way to FLL, another technique for avoiding traffic on Interstates 95 and 595 and U.S. 1 is to drive on the perimeter road that circles the airport, said T.J. Walsh of Fort Lauderdale, who responded to a Sun Sentinel question about airport experiences in the Facebook group “Things to Do in Fort Lauderdale.”
“It’s all about the perimeter road! Easy in and out, no matter the crazy highway traffic!” he said.