Airport Parking Technology: Trends, Enhancements, and Improved Customer Service

05 January 2024
Photo of airport terminal with car lights in motion.

This article written by David A. Moore, Principal and Senior Parking Consultant, originally appeared in the January 2024 issue of Parking Today.


Convenient and customer friendly parking options are, and will always be, a critical need for airports to successfully provide travelers the highest level of service, as well as to continue to grow their user base.

Air travel passenger numbers continue to increase in North America in 2023 since the pandemic shutdown of 2020 and so has the demand for vehicle parking at the nation’s airports. Concurrently, airport management as well as private operators that manage parking for many airports around the country, have been forced to adapt and innovate their parking operations strategies. With all the obstacles airports have faced in recent years, many are taking advantage of existing and new technologies to meet increased parking demands and ensure the parking experience is seamless for customers in order to safeguard a vital revenue stream.

Although there are many more, this article will focus on three specific technologies and/or programs that have seen increased use in recent years: parking guidance systems and individual space counting; online pre-paid reservations and on-site payment options; and frequent parker and customer loyalty programs.

Automated systems

In recent years, the use of parking guidance systems and individual space counting technologies and systems has become commonplace at airport parking facilities since its initial launch at BWI Airport in Baltimore, Maryland, 20 years ago. Over time, airports and parking operators have realized the multitude of benefits this technology can offer customers. 

These benefits include reduced search times for finding an available parking space, reduced operating expenses, ability to increase occupancy levels to 100 percent utilization by directing customers to the very last available parking spaces, and enhanced overall customer service. 

“To expedite mobility and improve traffic flow within our parking structures, Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) utilizes an individual space count system in our terminal garages to assist customers quickly find an available parking space,” says Thuy Cobb, CAPP, senior manager of parking controls at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. “This system eliminates the need for customers to drive each aisle searching for a parking space and reduces emissions within the parking structures. Customers can find a space quickly and move on to the next part of their travel journey.”

Real-time data

According to Cobb, DFW uses the real-time information provided by the system to determine parking availability and occupancy status. This data is useful for driving lot utilization and booking promotions offered to their parking customers.

“We also use this system to identify vehicles that overstay in our short-term parking spaces—1 to 2 hour stays—as part of our citation program,” Cobb says. “This system provides us features that improve operational efficiency and gives us better insight with lot/garage usage, so I definitely recommend looking at what the industry has to offer in latest technological advancements.” 

In addition, when used in concert with License Plate Recognition (LPR) technology at entrance and exit lanes of a parking facility, these systems provide customers the ability to find their vehicle using a walk-up kiosk after returning from a trip. This system also provides the technology and ability to charge customers a lower or higher parking rate for specific parking spaces or areas in the facility.

Flexible payments

Airports have seen an increased number of travelers making online pre-paid parking reservations for their upcoming trips. An online parking reservation can lower passenger stress levels the day of travel by ensuring a parking spot is reserved when they arrive at the airport. This payment provides a touch-less transaction process, as well as quicker entrance and exit times at the parking facility.

Additionally, airport parking on-site payment options are moving toward a cashless, credit card only business model. This model requires parking fees be paid by credit card at walkup pay-on-foot stations located inside the terminal near the baggage claim area, inside the parking facility, or at drive up payment stations located in the exit lanes.

Customer loyalty

Airports and parking operators are taking advantage of proven technologies, such as automated vehicle identification (AVI) and LPR, to manage and control these customer friendly programs that typically offer users rewards and/or discounts. The advantages of these programs include a quick, easy, and touch-less transaction when entering and exiting a parking facility with the system reading a customer’s AVI windshield tag or LPR. Payment of the parking fee is a seamless process by charging the credit card that is on-file in a customer’s account.

Customer experience

U.S. airports have begun to implement more of these technologies and processes, as well as others not covered here, to provide easy, seamless, and contactless parking experience for customers. 

“The need to transition to new systems utilizing bar and QR code readers to process prepaid reservations, add license plate recognition, and offer mobile payment options that can be tied to a credit card on file has been expedited,” says Robert Reiser, president, East Airports at SP Plus Airport Services.

According to Reiser, more airports are now offering online prepaid reservations providing customers with a stress-free experience while also allowing airports to develop relationships with their customers and creating opportunities for interactive marketing and promotions. 

“Online reservations are also a prelude to dynamic pricing and yield management, providing the ability and flexibility to adjust parking rates based on numerous factors, including demand and length of stay aimed at capturing new customers that may be deciding to park with an off-airport competitor or getting dropped off at the airport,” Reiser says. 

Airport parking operations and their parking operators must continue to evolve, adjust, and improve their technology to provide the highest level of customer service possible in order to run efficient and customer-friendly parking operations.

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