Flying out of Phoenix after the Super Bowl? How to return your car and other pro tips

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After you leave State Farm Stadium and head for the airport, it may feel like everyone at Super Bowl 57 has followed you there.

Staff at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport anticipate immense passenger traffic right after Super Bowl 2023 as airlines shuttle fans back to Philadelphia, Kansas City and other destinations after the game ends on Sunday, Feb. 12, and throughout the day on Monday, Feb. 13.

At least 180,000 passengers are expected at Sky Harbor on the Monday after the Super Bowl. That's about 60,000 more people than an average day and 5,000 more than the day after the 2015 Super Bowl, the last time the game came to metro Phoenix.

The airport has worked with airlines, the Transportation Security Administration, the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee, law enforcement and others to ensure Sky Harbor would be ready to handle the crush of passengers, said Chad Makovsky, the airport's director of aviation services.

"Phoenix Sky Harbor is no stranger to welcoming visitors to big events and to town for the Super Bowl," he said. "With our focus on service as well as recent enhancements we’ve made to our facilities, we look forward to providing our visitors with an exceptional experience."

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More airport staff and volunteers will be on duty

Airport staff also are working with the airlines, TSA and car rental companies to ensure that special operational plans are followed, airport spokeswoman Tamra Ingersoll said.

This includes additional customer service staff in key areas in the terminals to assist visitors and extra TSA agents to screen passengers.

The airport's Navigator volunteers will also have an increased presence, answering travelers' questions about the airport. They'll work alongside Super Bowl volunteers who will answer questions about the game.

"We expect to have all hands on deck for this busy travel period," Ingersoll said.

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How early should I get to the Phoenix airport after the Super Bowl?

Airport spokesman Eric Everts advised travelers to follow the "5-4-3-2-1 rule" to make the process of catching their flights after the Super Bowl as smooth as possible. That means allowing:

  • Five hours before departure to check out of your hotel.

  • Four hours before departure to return a rental car.

  • Three hours before departure to check in at the ticket counter.

  • Two hours before departure to get in line at the security checkpoint.

  • One hour before departure to arrive at your gate.

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How do I return a car at the Phoenix airport?

The Rental Car Center is roughly 2 miles from Terminal 3 and Terminal 4. Thousands of people will be returning cars, so allow yourself ample time to drop yours off and get to your gate.

The Rental Car Center is at 1805 E. Sky Harbor Circle South, south of Buckeye Road. It's accessible via Exit 149 off Interstate 10.

After you return your car, ride the PHX Sky Train from the Rental Car Center to Terminal 3 or Terminal 4. The Sky Train runs every three to five minutes. It can travel to Terminal 3 in six minutes and to Terminal 4 in eight minutes.

Here's an easier way to check your bags

To reduce crowds at baggage check-in areas, American, Delta, Southwest and United Airlines are offering a special early bag check service on Feb. 12 and 13 only.

The Sky Train comes from the Rental Car Center on the Grand Opening of the Sky Train extension connecting the terminals to the Rental Car Center at the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport.
The Sky Train comes from the Rental Car Center on the Grand Opening of the Sky Train extension connecting the terminals to the Rental Car Center at the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport.

Travelers can drop their luggage off at two early bag check locations near the airport. Staff With Bags Inc. workers will be at two locations to check passengers' luggage and have it transported to the airport:

  • 44th Street Sky Train Station: 3-8 p.m. Feb. 12; 4 a.m.-1 p.m. Feb. 13.

  • Rental Car Center: 8 p.m.-midnight Feb. 12; 4 a.m.-6 p.m. Feb. 13.

Once travelers drop off their bags, they can head straight to their gates and avoid the lines at check-in counters.

Bags can be checked as soon as the drop-off locations open, and they must be checked no later than 90 minutes before a flight. The service is free; airlines' baggage fees still apply.

"A service like early bag check offers passengers an additional way to check their luggage while also helping reduce the lines or crowds at traditional bag-check spots, like the curbs and ticket counters," Ingersoll said.

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Reach the reporter at Follow him on Twitter @salerno_phx.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Flying out of Phoenix after Super Bowl 2023? You need these tips