A day at Philadelphia International Airport (incl. Admiral’s Lounge)

 A whiteout gradually engulfs the runway. Pic by @jabberingjourno A whiteout gradually engulfs the runway. Pic by @jabberingjourno

Na, na, nah na na na nahhh…

I have only briefly visited Philadelphia itself once before – many moons ago as an impoverished backpacker – so my main impressions of the place are the thought provoking Tom Hanks film with its catchy soundtrack ( see the ‘nahs’ currently bouncing around my head) and the airport – in which for a number of reasons I have spent far too much time.

I would go so far as to say I, now pretty much am expert on the subject and on first name terms with several staff at the information desks – where they are very helpful if somewhat bemused at the confused looking woman with a British accent waving her boarding cards and looking baffled.

The trouble with Philly airport is that it is huge. As the only airport serving the fifth largest metropolitan area in the United States, the seven terminals which deliver millions of passengers to national and international destinations are spread out – a fact which means facilities are spread out too.

US airports tend to have shops and restaurants scattered along the many miles of gates rather than a central spot which can be a hit and miss approach. On one hand you are never far from some sort of shop or takeaway outlet – on the other the one you really want is inevitably in another terminal or miles away. Though the bulk of the shops are between terminals B&C.

But the bus service between all these terminals really is excellent.

Quick and frequent services appear every few minutes which is much easier than catching trains – you just get bussed right across the airport runways through marked lanes. It’s easy.

 Yes, that is a Liberty Bell made out of Lego. Pic at Philadelphia airport by @jabberingjourno Yes, that is a Liberty Bell made out of Lego. Pic at Philadelphia airport by @jabberingjourno

My first experience of this airport was, of course,  after a seven hour plus flight from the UK, where tired and discombobulated ( always wanted to use that word) I had to rescue my luggage before giving it back again -you have to physically bring your own luggage into the US so cannot check it right through.

After security I had to locate which terminal was being used for my internal flight to Roanoake, then catch the bus right over to Terminal F.

Terminal F is one of the newer ones so features a central eating area with a number of restaurants and a few shops ( don’t expect too much) with six hours to kill, I tried out a coffee place and a fast food restaurant ( Chipotle) which was a taste sensation – Mexican food Southern style, my chicken bowl with black beans and salad really was excellent.

The airport has free WiFi, which in these days really is essential, although you have to re-join every hour.

The bathroom facilities are well and regularly maintained and there are plenty of seats at all of the gates. The whole airport seems much calmer than many British airports and certainly more so than the craziness at JFK airport which I recently experienced. The machine certainly seems well- oiled. I even spotted a child play area and plenty of charging points.

On my way home I reversed the experience – after my early morning trip from Roanoke in the little propellor plane ( eek) with one flight attendant, I was delivered to Terminal F again where I chose to quickly get a shuttle bus over to Terminal A. I am here virtually all day and Terminal A is not quite as new and shiny as F, the facilities seems fewer and less exciting – unless you trek over to terminals B and C where there is a huge shopping area. And with a whole day to kill as a very tired transit passenger, I decided to fork out $50 for a day pass to the Admirals Lounge ( US airways).

 I took a propeller plane from Roanoke to Philly. Pic by @jabberingjiourno I took a propeller plane from Roanoke to Philly. Pic by @jabberingjiourno

My first impressions were that of a library. Very calm, the is up in an escalator or a lift and offers comfy(ish) chairs, free drinks and snacks, free drinks and access to computers, with booths to work in,  and free WiFi.

I admit I expected more of the food, but you do appreciate the quiet of the lounge after a few hours – I found I appreciated it more as the hours marched on. It is possible to sleep without fear of losing your bags and is an oasis of calm from the airport itself.

With decor in muted browns and greys, multiple chairs and tables, free newspapers and magazines, TV and computer terminals, it does offer an escape – and is not overly formal. The huge windows look over the airport runways, with a view of Philly chimneys in the distance.

Although I have to admit I have received friendlier welcomes in the US – the effusive welcome offered at many fast food outlets was not in evidence at the lounge front desk.

But overall well worth forking out – particularly with a layover of this length and facing an overnight international flight. And the tortilla chips and dips were tasty – I certainly got my money’s worth with the food and drink alone.

Worth adding that floor to ceiling windows gave us an amazing (if somewhat disconcerting) view of an incoming snowstorm, though as the whiteout increased and the word ‘delayed’ appeared next to multiple flights the novelty soon wore off.

In fact my flight was called on time, but we ended up delayed due to a buildup of ice on the plane, which meant we had to sit on a defrosting plate for half an hour ( a sort of microwave for planes) Better safe than sorry!

Good airport, lounge a huge boon if you face a long layover. Plus, there is a Liberty Bell made out of Lego!

JJ airport rating: 8/10