Palm Springs is all about rest, relaxation, revelry, and rejuvenation. So it’s only natural that the only commercial airport serving the casual-chic desert destination is one of the country’s most pleasant to fly into and out of. With only one main terminal, one TSA checkpoint, and 16 gates used by fewer than 3 million travelers annually, Palm Springs International Airport (PSP) is a breeze to get to from downtown, park at, and navigate. Plus, the open-air and landscaped courtyard and pathways, with their majestic mountain views, give passengers peaceful and pretty places to pass the time before their flights or during delays. It’s easy to see why the airport’s tagline is “Fly PSPsy.” Plus, it will likely surprise no one that the city that boasts the largest concentration of midcentury modern architecture and spawned the offshoot design school of desert modernism has landmarked, architecturally significant airport.
Airport Code, Location, and Contact Information
Conveniently located just than 3 miles from downtown Palm Springs at the intersection of East Tahquitz Canyon Way and El Cielo Road, the airport is across the street from various government and public buildings. There’s also a dog park nearby if you brought along your best furry friend and have time to kill.
• Airport Code: PSP
• Phone number: 760-318-3800
• Website: palmspringsairport.com
Know Before You Go
Eleven airlines provide nonstop flights to and from 23 cities in the U.S. and Canada, including Los Angeles, New York, Portland, Toronto, Chicago, Houston, Vancouver, and Atlanta. In 2019, the airport welcomed 2,563,955 passengers through its doors. The airlines are Air Canada, Alaska, Allegiant, American, Contour, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Sun Country, United, and WestJet. PSP is open 24 hours a day, but the TSA checkpoint opens approximately 90 minutes before the day’s first departure. Airlines set individual hours, but commonly open ticket counters two hours before their first departure.
Covering a relatively small and very walkable footprint, PSP is made up of four main components: the historic building (houses airline counters, baggage claim, and security), the lush courtyard, the Bono Concourse (gates 4-11), and the Regional Concourse (gates 12-20 without 13). Donald “Man Of Steel” Wexler, one of the most prominent desert modernists, designed the unique X-shaped main terminal, which opened in 1966. The shape aimed to allow patrons to see where everything is from one corridor and eliminate the need for confusing or ugly signage. Its west-facing exterior facade has a class-one historic designation, which means the pebbled concrete walls and native stone veneer will be preserved for posterity. Wexler went on to create a ticketing wing in 1969, a gate expansion in 1979, and the baggage claim renovation in 1987.
Parking at PSP
All available parking, which accommodates RVs, is located across from the terminal and is entered across from the Vehicle Inspection Plaza. The first seven minutes are free, and then it’s $2 for every 20 minutes, $6 per hour, or $20 per day. There is a prepay kiosk in the terminal lobby, or credit card or cash payment is accepted at the lot exit.
Drivers can stop at designated curbsides momentarily to pick up and drop off passengers. If you arrive before the passengers, sit in your car in the free cell phone waiting lot on Kirk Douglas Way.
Conveniently located less than three miles east of downtown Palm Springs, enter from East Tahquitz Canyon Way, where it intersects with El Cielo Road. It's less than 11 miles from I-10. If coming from the freeway, take Exit 123 (Gene Autry Trail/Palm Drive) and head south before turning right on Ramon Road and right on Kirk Douglas Way. On busy Fridays and Sunday afternoons as well as holidays, the surface streets can get backed up, so plan extra driving time. It takes 20 to 45 minutes to get there from nearby resort cities like La Quinta or Palm Desert.
There are a variety of ways to get to and from PSP. Which option one chooses depends on how much exploring you intend to do outside the city limits, where you are staying, and your budget. If you want to drive all over the Coachella Valley touring date farms in Indio, hiking in Joshua Tree National Park, or photographing the social media hotspot Salvation Mountain, you'll want to rent a car. Eight of the big-name rental brands, including Hertz, Enterprise, and Thrifty, are located at PSP across from the terminal building. Local companies Desert Rent-A-Car and Go Rentals are often cheaper but offsite.
If you're sticking around Palm Springs proper or not planning to leave the resort after check-in, rely on taxis (Coachella Valley Taxi, Desert City Cab, or Yellow Cab of the Desert) or rideshares Uber and Lyft. Rideshare drivers are allowed to drop off curbside in front of the terminal, but pick-ups take place in a designated area at the south end of the terminal across from WestJet. Pre-arrangements can also be made with numerous limousine, luxury car, van, or bus companies.
In terms of public transportation, Sunline Transit Authority has two stops within three blocks of PSP and can take passengers around the Coachella Valley. If you are trying to get to Yucca Valley, Twentynine Palms, Landers, Joshua Tree, or the marine base, use the Morongo Basin buses. Amtrak provides bus-to-train service to Fullerton and Los Angeles stations from PSP. Their stop's at the terminal's north end by the rental car lot.
Where to Eat and Drink
All six food and beverage offerings, including Starbucks, are currently shuttered for remodeling/rebranding, but grab-and-go snacks, sandwiches, coffee, salads, and pre-packaged meals are available at the mini-marts and Desert Marketplace. New restaurants and bars are expected to be unveiled in October 2020. Dining and drinking alfresco in a courtyard patio are the best (and most unique) things about PSP, so here’s hoping they retain that concept.
Where to Shop
There are six retail outlets at the airport. Desert Mart, Desert News, and CNBC are one-stop shops for the basics (magazines, books, snacks, drinks, sundries, travel gear, and some regional trinkets and souvenirs). Desert Marketplace is more of a gift store with a slightly more refined selection of jewelry, spa products, and other Palm Springs and desert motif curios and clothing. Links lovers can swing by the PGA Tour Shop in the Bono Concourse for PGA-branded clothes, equipment, and other items they might need to play Greater Palm Springs’ 100 courses.
How to Spend Your Layover
There aren't a lot of distractions at PSP, but on a pleasant day, you can't beat sitting in the open palm tree-dotted courtyard where you'll find a playground, pet area, water features, art, and seating for relaxing, eating, drinking, and working. Two pieces of art to view on the property are "Macchia Bowl," by famed blown-glass artist Dale Chihuly (main terminal) and "Male Figure of Balzac," by Christopher Georgesco (Bono Concourse escalators).
Depending on how long of a delay/layover you're facing, security is usually a low-key process, and there are several restaurants within a 15-minute walk. On nearby Kirk Douglas Way, there is a trio of works ("Machine Age," "Le Campas de Vulcan," and "Forget Me Not") by French sculptor Jean-Claude Farhi on display. Or grab a rideshare and head six minutes over to see what all the Instagram fuss is over Robolights, a wacky yard art installation using Christmas lights that started in 1986.
The Bob Hope USO lounge is within walking distance from the main entrance, and it boasts a DVD library, Internet and computers, lending book library, and a snack bar with GI-approved comfort foods. It’s free for active troops, retired military members, and their families.
Wi-Fi and Other Amenities
Wi-Fi is free throughout all public areas. There are three ATMs and two prepaid credit card machines peppered throughout the airport, but no currency exchange counters. There’s a lactation station for nursing in the open-air hallway that leads to the Regional Concourse. There are benches outside it for companions to wait.
Volunteer Navigators wearing signature teal shirts and gray jackets operate a booth in the central lobby as well as roam the terminals to give directions, answer airport services questions, and hand out maps and guidebooks.
Tips & Facts
• The airport's roots can be traced back to a single dirt runway laid out by the Gray Brothers in the late 1920s, mostly to ferry guests of the El Mirador Hotel. In the '30s, the chamber of commerce leased land from the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians to build its own airstrip, several years before Palm Springs was incorporated. It was a favorite tarmac of pilot Jacqueline Cochran, the first woman to fly faster than the speed of sound, director of the Women's Airforce Service Pilots, and now is the namesake of the nearby Thermal private airport. In 1942, the Army built Palm Springs Air Base on the site of the current airport for training, maintenance, and receiving wounded soldiers for treatment at the hotel–turned-hospital Mirador. Post-war, the military returned the base to the city for commercial use. The town officially purchased the land from the tribe in 1961 once Eisenhower's 1959 Land Equalization Act made the sale legal. A few years later, Wexler was hired.
• The region's ties to the military remain strong, and they've received millions in Federal Aviation Administration funding for technology upgrades and facilities improvement. Thus it isn't rare to see service members or military aircraft using PSP to refuel, practice approaches, or as a rest stop to this day. Don't want any "Red Dawn"-esque fears ruining your vacation.
• Architecture buffs who want more Wexler can see several other projects around town including Professional Park on Civic Drive, Royal Hawaiian Estates, two Dinah Shore Houses, Raymond Cree Middle School, the high school's football stadium, the Merrill Lynch Building (now Eisenhower Medical), and the Desert Water Agency.
• PSP is busiest during the high season (the winter holidays through late spring), which peaks in April thanks to the extremely popular Coachella and Stagecoach music festivals.
• PSP is within 150 miles of several larger airports, including Ontario International (67 miles), John Wayne Airport, Orange County (96 miles), Los Angeles International (121 miles), and San Diego International (141 miles).