The new face of travel: by air
© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 21, 2001
TAMPA -- Becky Daniels' family was well-prepared for her arrival Tuesday at Tampa International Airport with a bouquet of roses, balloons and even a hand-made poster.
The only thing missing was being able to greet the 19-year-old at the gate where she would step foot into Florida for the first time since moving to Minnesota in July.
For her mom, Beth Daniels, who was so excited she came to the airport an hour early, that was a major disappointment. But she understood why it had to be that way.
"I understand it. I agree with it," said Mrs. Daniels, who shed some tears when she saw her youngest daughter. "But I don't like it."
As millions arrive at airports around the nation this week to travel for the Thanksgiving holiday, they are finding the stricter safety measures that have been enforced since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The most dramatic change at Tampa's airport may be forbidding non-passengers from riding shuttles to the airside gate areas, leaving family members and friends waiting for loved ones to arrive or leave at the main terminal.
"If this can keep some weird people from coming here, than it's worth it," said Dick Schuler of New Port Richey, who was waiting with his wife and granddaughter for his grandson, Steve Gross, to arrive from New York.
Hundreds of people waiting for family and friends Tuesday afternoon sat in chairs or on the floor facing the doors to the shuttles. Others, too excited to sit, stood or paced. They scoured the faces of the hordes of people arriving on shuttles from the four airsides every few minutes.
"We're totally okay with it, if it's for security," said Pat Adler, who waited with her 2-year-old son, Grant, for her mother-in-law. "I have no problem with it."
Grant, who was dressed up as an American Indian from a preschool activity earlier in the day, kept a watch over the sea of people coming off the shuttle. Every time the doors opened, he would scream "Grandma's here" to the amusement of other passengers.
Tampa airport expects 10 percent fewer passengers to pass through the airport this month than in November 2000 when 1.3-million people came through, TIA spokeswoman Brenda Geoghagan said. That's bad news but not as bad as the previous two months or the national statistics.
In September, the airport had 27 percent fewer passengers. In October, it was 13 percent less.
With all the added security measures and canceled flights since the attacks, many people who arrived at the airport didn't know what to expect or at least expected delays in getting through security checkpoints. But, they said, the trips were relatively quick, and many found themselves visiting shops or restaurants to use up extra time.
"There's enough stuff to keep you occupied," said Richard Lee, who was waiting with his 8-year-old daughter, Caitlin, for his mother to fly in from Dallas. The two sat and read on the floor while watching the shuttles come and go.
People picking up family members and friends did encounter security inspections when they parked at the short-term lot. While that was hassle-free, picking up someone at curbside was not. Drivers can still pull up to the curb, but they can't leave their vehicles unattended.
While airport security used to let drivers do that for a few minutes before Sept. 11, they now tow cars to a nearby lot close to the post office. The number of vehicles towed since September has tripled.
"Before there was some leeway," Geoghagan said. "Now, there's no tolerance."
Attendants stationed outside the shuttles who checked tickets and photo IDs said they were bombarded with questions about where people could meet their loves ones. Most knew they could not go to the gate but didn't quite know where to stand.
Most families found each other, though a few didn't and headed downstairs to see whether they could meet them at the baggage claim area.
Kelly and June McRae of St. Petersburg missed greeting their daughter and son-in-law from Pennsylvania. After 25 minutes of searching, they headed downstairs.
"I'm disappointed," McRae said.
"It's okay," Mrs. McRae, "They can't go anywhere without us."
- Staff writer Jean Heller contributed to this report.
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