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How Sun Devils can get to Sky Harbor airport to travel home for the holidays

While in-state students can often get a ride home for the upcoming holidays, students heading home out-of-state need to get to Sky Harbor, which is sometimes a lengthy task

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A plane flies eastbound over "A" Mountain at Hayden Butte Preserve Park on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023.

The holidays have crept up once again to signify the beginning of the end of the semester — the final stretch with class exams before the month-long winter break. Yet, with the end in sight, this means the beginning of Sun Devils finding flights or rides back to their hometowns.

Many students trek back home for the holidays, whether across the Valley, across the Heartland to the East Coast, or across the ocean to another continent. In any case, students head home to visit family and celebrate holidays with traditions and festivities. 

With the journey home comes the difficulty of finding a way to travel there. For students out of state, it means securing a ride to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. For in-state students, it might mean hopping on the Valley Metro Bus or Rail. 

Valley Metro has several easy-to-access traveling solutions for students going to the airport. The system works across the Phoenix Metro area, where ASU houses its four Valley campuses.  

Getting to Sky Harbor 

Valley Metro provides buses, rails and street cars. Downloading the free Valley Metro App allows students to plan trips, see when Valley Metro vehicles arrive in real-time and know where they are going. 

The best way for students to get to the airport is by rail, which has ample room and runs on side streets. 

Communications Manager at Valley Metro Susan Tierney said the light rail is the best way to get to the airport. 

Students on the Tempe and Downtown Phoenix campuses can take the rail to the 44th Street and Washington stop, where the PHX Sky Train will take riders directly into the airport terminals. 

From the 44th Street and Washington stop, "You take the Sky Train, and it will take you to the terminal you’re departing from,” Tierney said. Another Sky Train is located at the 24th Street Express Pay Parking lot. 

Depending on what part of Tempe a student is in, they may need to take the Tempe Streetcar to the Mill Avenue and 3rd Street rail stop to get to Sky Harbor.

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Polytechnic campus students should plan on finding a ride with a friend, hailing a ride-share or taking a University shuttle to the Tempe campus, where they can board the streetcar and light rail to head toward Sky Harbor.

West Valley Campus students should also plan on carpooling, using ride-share or taking a University shuttle to the Downtown campus, where they can board the light rail at the Van Buren Street and 1st Avenue stop.

At the airport

It is also advised that planning ahead of time for transportation and security wait times is crucial to traveling, Tierney said. The Valley Metro App helps plan trips in advance, but it’s always better to be more prepared than not.

"The roads are busier, flights are busier, our system is busier," Tierney said. "So it's always good to plan ahead and give yourself some time."

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Students are not the only ones trying to get home, as the airport is always bustling with all types of people during the holidays — creating excruciating security wait times. The anxiety of unpacking electronics, taking off shoes and the slow people in front make waiting in line for security a sometimes long experience, which is why students need to prepare in advance so they are on time for flight boarding.

Phoenix Sky Harbor was recently awarded the title of No. 1 airport in the U.S. by the Wall Street Journal, which ranked the airport's security clearance wait times at No. 15. Even so, Tierney said it is always better to be early. 

"Anywhere in the continental U.S., we recommend arriving at the airport two hours before your flight and navigating (where) you are checking luggage, (check) the security wait times and then the time around the gate," said Tamra Ingersoll, a public information manager for Sky Harbor. 

TSA has Clear and PreCheck to battle the wait times, but Sky Harbor has its own free program called PHX Reserve for Terminal 3 and Terminal 4. It places those who participate in a separate line from general security screening and allows them to proceed to their screening at a prescheduled time. To access PHX Reserve, visit the airport website and scroll down to "Security Wait Times" to reserve a time.

"Let's say that you know you're flying out at a certain time; you can reserve a space in line before that flight time," Ingersoll said. "You’re put in that line at a place ahead of other people. It just guarantees you a spot in line, so you’re not stuck waiting in long crowds."

All these options will make holiday traveling easier so students can make it to Sky Harbor on time to return home for a much-needed break. 

Edited by Grey Gartin, Walker Smith and Caera Learmonth.

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