Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) is one of a few airports in America that continues to utilize its Passenger Transfer Vehicles (PTVs). The vehicles, also known as “Plane Mates” or “mobile lounges,” were designed by Eero Saarinen in the 1960s. With commercial air travel booming and airports expanding, there became a demand for a new and innovative way to travel within the facilities. The goal of the PTVs was to accommodate passengers who did not want to walk long distances within airports and preferred an elevated experience. These peculiar looking vehicles have been utilized at PHL since the 1970s and 1980s and serve as waiting areas for passengers who are then driven to board their planes.

PHL has a total of six PTVs. Each vehicle is 60-feet long, weighs 76,000 pounds (38 tons), travels approximately 26 miles-per-hour and can carry more than 100 passengers at a time. The PTVs are typically utilized to support international flights in A-East and A-West during condensed periods of time when gates may not be readily available. A portal in A-East near gate A6 is where PTVs load and unload guests directly into the terminal.

“Our PTVs are another tool to accommodate our guests in the event of gate unavailability or emergency situations so they can continue their journeys,” said PHL Deputy Director of Facilities Maintenance Allan Moore. “We want to do our best to keep them in prime operating condition, so they are ready when we need them.”

Due to special vintage parts, it has become increasingly difficult to maintain the PTVs’ lifting and brake systems, and gears needed for repairs and proper maintenance have become obsolete or unavailable. PHL contracted Elliott-Lewis Corporation to evaluate and refurbish its PTVs through the airport’s Facilities Maintenance contract. Elliot-Lewis partnered with Conception D. Bedard Inc, a Canadian company with 25 years’ experience in designing, manufacturing, modifying and testing heavy machinery like the PTVs. Through this process, PHL can upkeep the modernization and rehabilitation of the vehicles so that the airport has two ready for use at all times.

A PHL PTV sent to Conception D. Bedard Inc in March 2021 was returned in the fall. Another PTV has recently been sent out and will return within six months.