When Tampa International Airport as we know it today opened in 1971, it was heralded as the most modern airport in the world. Featuring a hub-and-spoke design, TPA puts people first by limiting walking distances and using a never-before-seen automated people mover system to transport travelers from the Main Terminal (the hub) to air sides (the spokes) to catch their flights.
This architectural wonder was featured in such publications as Life magazine, Popular Science, and U.S. News and World Report and lauded as the most passenger-oriented terminal complex in operation.
Today’s travelers still benefit from the ground-breaking design, and Tampa International Airport consistently is listed among the top airports in the country for satisfaction.
The Airport is continuing to build on its legacy of innovation with a three-phase expansion program that will allow Tampa International to accommodate 34 million passengers each year, doubling the capacity from when the first dirt was turned for the project in 2014.
In 2018, the Airport served more than 21 million passengers – an Airport record – and completed the $981-million first phase of the expansion. The expansion included a new Rental Car Center connected by a 1.4-mile people mover to an expanded Main Terminal with an entirely new concessions program. In the Rental Car Center, a remote bag check and boarding pass kiosks that serve multiple airlines offer a one-of-a-kind passenger amenity that means rental car customers don’t have to manage their luggage after they return their rental cars. The popularity of the service also means fewer passengers use the ticket counters in the Main Terminal, improving the Airport’s efficiency.
“The Airport is continuing to build on its legacy of innovation with a three-phase expansion program that will allow Tampa International to accommodate 34 million passengers each year.”
SkyConnect, the name given via a community vote to the new people mover system, includes a stop at the Economy garage, providing a major customer service improvement to users of the most affordable Airport parking product. In the past, Economy parkers had to wait for up to 15 minutes for a van to take to them to the terminal, which also required maneuvering luggage up the steps into the van. With the SkyConnect, which arrives about every three minutes, it’s simply roll-on, roll-off. Reaching speeds of nearly 50 miles per hour, the 12 SkyConnect vehicles are each wrapped with images of native birds – six in total. The birds include the Great Egret, Black Skimmer, Bald Eagle, Roseate Spoonbill, White Ibis and the American White Pelican. The bird theme is particularly fitting to the Airport. More than 500 bird species either live year-round in Florida, stay here for the winter or use the state as rest stops as they migrate. Many are found here in Tampa Bay. The featured birds were chosen with help from the Tampa Audubon Society
The Main Terminal expansion includes outdoor seating areas, one by the food court and two others outside the Hard Rock Cafe and P.F. Chang’s. These beautiful spaces feature high-end furniture, plenty of shade and cooling fans so guests can enjoy the Florida outdoors year-round. The new concessions program has already won industry awards for its outstanding design and unique offerings that include such familiar national brands as Hard Rock Cafe, Chick-fil-A, Wendy’s, Starbuck, Illy, Tommy Bahama, Ron Jon and Quiksilver, and a huge variety of local restaurants and products that give travelers a taste of Tampa Bay.
The Columbia Restaurant, whose Ybor City storefront is the oldest continuously operating restaurant in Florida, has a full-service restaurant in Airside E, as well as a significant presence in a food court in Airside C. Other Tampa Bay flavors included the Irish pub Four Green Fields, pizza from Bavarro’s, Greek fare from Louis Pappas and fine dining from Mise En Place.
“One of the region’s most beloved institutions, Tampa International Airport is also a linchpin in its economic vibrancy, with an impact of more than $8 billion every year and more than 10,000 workers on the Airport campus.”
Work has already begun on the second phase of the Airport expansion, which includes commercial development around the Rental Car Center, to create a sort of “airport city,” and additional curb space at the Main Terminal to accommodate continued passenger growth as well as adapt to the changing transportation landscape shaped by ridesharing and the inevitability of automated vehicle use by the general population.
One of the region’s most beloved institutions, Tampa International Airport is also a linchpin in its economic vibrancy, with an impact of more than $8 billion every year and more than 10,000 workers on the Airport campus. Growing air service supports the region’s tourism industry, and assists with recruitment of businesses looking to relocate or expand in the Tampa Bay region. With development all around Tampa Bay, TPA looks to continue to grow to better serve the area and create a memorable first and last impression for millions of travelers each year.