Survey aside, TIA still a Tampa Bay area jewel

Published May 28, 2007

One thing this region can brag about is the quality of its airport. Tampa International, which opened in 1971, has been enormously adaptable to the growth in traffic - 19-million passengers file through here every year - and to the space demands for security procedures imposed after Sept. 11. That's why the airport's mediocre ranking in a nationwide survey caught us by surprise.

The results need to be kept in perspective. Half the categories used to assess the airports cover tasks over which the airport has little control, such as security, which is the government's job, and baggage claim, which the airlines handle. It is hardly news that the Transportation Security Administration is not the model for efficiency or competence. Or that the struggling airlines have cut back on ground crews and customer service. Tampa's grade for accessibility even dropped, despite the fact it took less time this year for respondents to reach the terminal after parking.

A better measure would be to assess how TIA fared in a number of recent surveys. Two that examined the airport last year gave Tampa high marks for cleanliness, parking and overall ease in finding and reaching the gates. Low marks for security and baggage delivery underscore where the big problem rests: with government and the airlines. They need to better staff their operations during peak times.

The airport can always improve; it has relatively few dining options in the terminal, where people meeting travelers must wait, and the cab stand often gives spotty service. But under director Louis Miller, the airport has continually invested to remain convenient and attractive. It replaced the airsides with modern facilities, doubled parking and made it easier and cheaper to drop off and pick up travelers. TIA also is planning for the future. Its leadership understands the need to stay ahead. The public should have confidence this is a well-run asset.