American Tackles Gate Overcrowding in Philadelphia With a Unique Solution

Jun 8, 2019

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American Airlines has been on a growth spurt from its transatlantic hub in Philadelphia (PHL). Just this week, AA launched three new European routes — Dubrovnik, Croatia (DBV); Bologna, Italy (BLQ) and Berlin, Germany (TXL). With those new flights on the schedule, American says it’s now offering more than 420 daily flights to about 120 destinations.

The trouble is that Philadelphia is already a pretty crowded airport, so these new flights are creating a sort of “musical chairs” situation for PHL’s limited gates during peak parts of the day.

Rather than having flights wait for an open gate or using aircraft stairs and buses, American Airlines has come up with a rather neat solution; Passenger Transport Vehicles (PTVs) are going to unload “up to two arrivals a day” to help with gate compression issues. (In aviation vernacular, “gate compression” essentially means too many planes for too few gates.)

I caught up with AA’s Philadelphia spokesperson Andrew Tull to learn more about how this is being implemented:

Every morning, our Hub Control Center evaluates planned arrivals — taking into account number of transfers, requests for assistance (wheelchairs, unaccompanied minors) — and selects two terminating aircraft to park on one of two remote pad positions near the Terminal A.

RELATED: Take a look inside American Airlines’ 196-foot high Hub Control Center

Up to three PTVs will meet each arriving flight — depending on the passenger load and size of the aircraft being deplaned — with both forward and aft doors used to expedite the process. From there, the “buggies” are able to drive straight to customs and immigration hall in PHL’s Terminal A.

I was curious how much extra time this process might take for passengers with connections to make. But, Andrew says American has “found that we’re able to deplane our customers with PTVs as fast as traditional arrivals.”

To help prepare passengers for the experience, AA has “developed a set of onboard messages that our [flight attendants] read before landing to help inform our customers what to expect” and AA has customer care representative onboard the mobile lounges to assist with questions.

If you are like me and want to experience this yourself, Andrew said that this solution is being used during afternoon arrivals when American has a lot of European flights arriving at PHL. The gate compression issue is primarily affecting AA’s larger aircraft, so aircraft chosen for the PTV arrival typically are Airbus A330, Boeing 757 or Boeing 767 aircraft.

Considering the congestion at more and more airports, I’m surprised that this solution hasn’t been implemented at more airports. Rather than using aircraft stairs and buses, these PTVs seem like they’d be easier for passengers with limited mobility while providing a safer and more sterile transfer of passengers from the aircraft to customs and immigration.

Featured image of Philadelphia International’s Terminal A by the author.

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