Passengers hoping to park their cars at Logan International Airport on Tuesday afternoon found themselves on a surprise trip to Suffolk Downs racetrack instead.
Between Massachusetts families returning late from last week’s school vacation week and New Hampshire residents heading out for their school vacation week, the airport’s usually crowded lots were overflowing. At 12:30 p.m., drivers were directed to the parking lot at Suffolk Downs in East Boston, where they could leave their car free of charge and catch a courtesy shuttle back to the airport. The Massachusetts Port Authority reopened the airport lots later in the day.
Logan’s parking lots hit capacity on more than 50 days over the course of 30 weeks last year, usually on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, when business travel peaks. The airport started a complimentary valet system about four years ago to deal with the excess cars, relying on overtime shifts and temporary workers — at a cost of $1 million a year — to shuffle up to 1,000 vehicles a day.
Passengers tried to fit as many as 18,000 cars a day in the 16,200 parking spots at Logan last week, a roughly 13 percent jump above normal. The airport valeted about 2,600 of those cars, squeezing arriving cars between rows of parked vehicles until spots opened up in the garages; this year the airport also tucked more than 750 vehicles underneath the elevated roadway that runs between the terminals.
But on Tuesday, all the airport's extra nooks and crannies were filled, causing Massport to send drivers elsewhere for the first time since 2006.
Logan handles more travelers on a smaller footprint of land than any other airport in the country. Not only is there little room to build lots, but a citywide parking cap that went into effect in the 1970s limits the number of spaces the airport can have. Massport is trying to find room to add 2,000 spots allowed under the cap.
Until then, the airport is stuck with what it has, even as passenger numbers increase every year, topping 30 million in 2013.
Massport is also trying to keep people from driving to the airport, offering discounts to take the Logan Express shuttle and expanding remote lots.