DennisBeaverSeptember 22, 2012 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver

Last week we began our look into airport parking. We revealed something that few people are aware of when they park at hotels near major airports, such as LAX, expecting to be promptly taken to the airport and returned to the hotel upon their return:

l. Advertised pick-up times, such as “Every 15 to 20 minutes” are often gross exaggerations, with real wait times frequently double or longer.

2. The LED sign on the blue shuttle bus might say “Crowne Plaza, Marriott, Radisson, Westin” or any one of 13 hotels near LAX, but it’s not their shuttle. Hotels contract out this service to Destination Shuttle Services, (DSS), whose website boasts of a “high level of convenience for customers.”

But with only 34 buses, none dedicated to a particular hotel, a lot of airline passengers would take serious exception to that claim.

When the shuttle doesn’t show up in a timely manner — or the driver is a jerk — it’s natural to blame the hotel. As we reported last week, in late July, several frustrated, tired and understandably angry passengers waited over 40 minutes to be picked up at the airport. Said one, “I am never staying at this hotel again.”

But it wasn’t the hotel’s shuttle, rather, one operated by DSS, as we learned from the hotel manager. We were also told their contract might not be renewed due to numerous complaints.

“In those 40 minutes, we counted close to 10 shuttles from Wally Park, as many from Park ‘N Fly and others, then suddenly two from our hotel arrived at very same time! Where were they? Why weren’t they circulating, picking up passengers, as they advertise?” upset passengers asked.

But competent and prompt shuttle service does exist, as there are a handful of facilities which make any trip far more enjoyable, often at a highly competitive rates.

Dedicated facilities = time savings and much more

You can find “cheap airport parking” Internet sites offering both hotel and non-hotel rates from $7 to $15 a day, with glowing praise from “customers,” whose legitimacy those people who waited 40 minutes had good reason to doubt. It was only when we narrowly constructed Internet search terms, looking for delays and complaints about hotel shuttle service, that very different customer comments appeared.

The common denominator is delay — huge amounts of wasted time, shuttles which never appear, damage to car doors followed by promises to “never stay at this hotel or park here again.”

We spoke with Tony Paalz, CEO of Park ‘N Fly, and Bryan Gusdorf, senior vice president of marketing and sales at Wally Park. Both are in complete agreement as to why so many people are highly dissatisfied with hotel parking facilities.

“When you are going to catch a flight, speed counts. While hotels try to run on cycles, often claiming every half hour on the hour, it is risky to rely on these claims, especially when returning, because if you don’t call the hotel when you reach the baggage carousel, chances are they might not appear or you will be waiting a very long time,” Paalz told us.

“Consumers need speed. We are in the shuttle business, not the hotel business, and shuttles are not their business. We run every five minutes heading off to the airport and picking passengers up within that time when they arrive.”

But, as we learned, there’s much more to the companies like Park ‘N Fly  and Wally Park than five-minute service 24 hours a day. Gusdorf was proud to describe “our Wally guards, which is padding between every vehicle, so no one gets door dings. At many lots, cars are parked in so terribly tight, and all you need is one door ding to more than eat up any savings.”

And he’s right. “Parking lot door ding” repair costs can easily run into the hundreds of dollars.

The variety of services offered by both Park ‘N Fly and Wally Park, in addition to parking, are real time savers for business and leisure travelers alike — from taking care of your dry cleaning, to an oil change, washing and waxing your car, charging a dead battery, even pet boarding at some locations, services which “go well beyond parking for a busy clientele,” as Gusdorf points out.

What also surprised us was the cost factor. Often weekly specials bring down the cost to less than what you would pay for so-called “discount” hotel parking.

Air travel isn’t fun after a long and tiring sardine-packed flight, waiting in front of a noisy airport terminal over 40 minutes for a shuttle to the parking lot. This isn’t the way you have to end your trip.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.