Comfort, safety first
By JEAN HELLER, Times Staff Writer
When it opens next week, the first new gate complex at TIA in seven years will devote considerably more room and more science to the searching, scanning and X-raying of passengers and their bags than the terminal it replaces, Airside C.
There are five security arches and X-ray complexes at Airside E, including one that will accommodate wheelchairs, among the first of its kind in the country. There is also an X-ray machine for shoes.
The $120-million, 350,000-square-foot project also comes equipped with state-of-the-art baggage handling and passenger information systems, not to mention embalmed palm trees.
Airport officials say that in both design and function Airside E is intended to make passengers as comfortable as possible while recognizing safety and security requirements of a world concerned with terrorism.
"It's an amazing facility, especially compared to Airside C, which is a 35-year-old building," said Louis Miller, executive director of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority. "One key improvement is getting security and the gates on the same level so passengers don't have to negotiate a narrow escalator with bags and kids."
The new airside will be home to Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and Air Canada. Of the facility's 14 gates, Delta has nine, United two and Air Canada one. Two gates are available for expansion or charters.
Because of security restrictions, only ticketed passengers will see the airside once it goes into operation. To give everyone a sneak preview, TIA is holding a public open house on Saturday, during which visitors will be able to buy a hot dog, a bag of chips and a soft drink for $1.
"We are absolutely on time and absolutely on budget," said Frank Fralick, group president of Beers Skanska, the principal contractor on the site.
Airside E is served by two shuttles. Each has two cars, and each car has a capacity of 80. The new cars are virtually identical to those at other airsides. Newer technology was available, but "we wanted everything to be compatible and interchangeable," said John Housley Jr., manager for Bombardier Transportation, which built the shuttle system.
Passengers leaving the shuttle will step into the tallest of TIA's airsides, with a ceiling peak of 48 feet. The roof of the concourse area slopes down to 42.5 feet to give air traffic controllers a clear view of activity around the terminal.
The carpeting is custom designed, predominantly blue and black with some purple and green, meant to represent coral reefs. The principal tile is Atlantic blue with grout lines of just 1/16th-inch so that wheeled bags won't thump along.
For families that arrive the requisite two hours early and find themselves waiting with young children for their flight, there is an aviation-themed playroom for the kids, with climbing apparatus and slides and simulated aircraft to sit in. The walls and ceiling are painted with murals, and the voice of Charlie Brown narrates the history of flight.
Baggage handling is fully automated. Each checked bag gets a tag with a bar code indicating its flight. It is carried on a belt directly to Airside E, where the bar code is scanned by a laser, which directs the bag to go to the pier serving the appropriate gate.
At each of its nine gates, Delta has installed kiosks that display not only the flight's status, but the weather at the destination and the list of standby passengers. As standbys are cleared to board, their names change status on the board, and they go right to the gate, bypassing the ticket agents.
"We have the system installed in other cities, and the customer feedback is phenomenal," said Katie Connell, spokeswoman for Delta. "We hadn't put them in here before because we knew we were leaving Airside C soon."
The restaurants were carefully chosen, too.
Casa Bacardi, developed with the rum company, has a Latin/Caribbean theme. DaVinci's offers a gourmet deli. Frankly Gourmet prepares hotdogs in ways few have imagined. The Quick Connect offers sandwiches and salads. And there is, of course, the ubiquitous Starbucks.
Because financial considerations have forced most airlines to forego meal service and curtail beverage service, several restaurants in Airside E will offer meals to go on board.
Shops include the Tampa Bay Trading Co. for gifts, books and newspapers, Signatures, Etc., for pens, stationery and supplies for business travelers, and a duty-free shop for Air Canada passengers.
"Developing concessions is a learning experience," said Ron Gomes, senior director for business development for HMS Host, which operates most of the concessions at TIA. "A group on the food side (of Host) measures market trends, which categories are growing fastest. Lately it's been fresh alternatives and deli. Then we look at which airlines the terminal serves and their customer base, whether the flights are long or short, business or leisure. Delta is heavy on business travel."
Perched above everything on the north half of the terminal is Delta's new 9,000-square-foot Crown Room for VIP passengers. It is more than twice the size of the 3,900-square-foot facility at Airside C. A second VIP facility hangs above the south half of the terminal ready if another tenant ever wants its own private room.
In case it is ever necessary to evacuate the terminal, five emergency exits have three flights of extra-wide stairs down to the apron.
And oh, yes, about those embalmed palm trees. The airside designers thought that as bright as the building is, there was not enough sun to allow for healthy live palm trees, so they bought trees that have been preserved in a non-toxic chemical process. During the transformation, the trees exchange their natural fluids for the chemical and stay fresh for years.
The irony is that the preservation company is in California, and the palms going into this Florida airport actually are California trees.
While Airside E is the first new gate facility since Airside A opened in 1995, it won't be the last. As soon as Delta is satisfied that all is working well in its new home, airport officials will begin demolition and reconstruction of Airside C. The new building will be completed in 2005, with Southwest Airlines as the principal tenant.
When United and Air Canada leave Airside D next week, only the low-fare carriers, JetBlue, Spirit Airlines and AirTran will remain. This has allowed airport officials and the federal Transportation Security Administration to empty the second level to create more room for screening and security, which has been severely cramped in the 32-year-old building.
It has also allowed HMS Host to design new shops and restaurants on the lower level, nearer the gates, where people could stay longer and not worry about missing their flights.
Kevin Keane, the Host general manager at TIA, said the new concessions will be open by November.
Airside D will be torn down and replaced after work is completed on the new Airside C.
At the same time Airside C is demolished, Airside B will come down. That facility hasn't been used since the demise of Eastern Airlines. The space that the terminal occupies today will be turned into much needed overnight parking for the airlines.
"After we finish with B, C and D, it will be the end of the airside work for a while," said Miller, the aviation authority director. "We just remodeled F, and A is new."
By the time the airsides need more work, the authority probably will be involved in building a second terminal complex, the mirror image of the current hub-and-spoke system, directly to the north. That is expected some time after 2015.
Some facts about Airside E:
* Will handle 47 daily flights with 7,595 seats to 15 destinations.
* Will be decorated with 500 live and preserved plants.
* Contains 8,800 cubic yards of concrete, 1,250 tons of steel, 18,000 square feet of window walls, 42,500 square feet of tile and 11,100 square feet of carpet.
* Occupancy capacity is 5,196.
* There are 1,589 chairs and 30 telephone kiosk seats in the waiting area.
* There are two smoking lounges.
Get a preview of the new Airside E at TIA's public open house, Saturday, Oct. 12 from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Parking is free in the remote economy lot.
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