There’s no doubt that Tampa International Airport — like airports across the country — took a major hit from the COVID-19 pandemic, but the airport is taking steps toward an aggressive recovery.
That was a key point shared by Veronica Cintron, the airport’s vice president of communications, during a Zoom presentation in early June to members of the North Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce.
As more Americans are getting vaccinated — and with summer vacation season here — air travel is experiencing an uptick.
The Tampa airport, known as TPA for short, saw about 62,000 passengers on the Monday of Memorial Day weekend — making it the second busiest day of the pandemic. The only day that had been busier to date was Wrestlemania Sunday, which recorded 66,000 passengers in a single day, Cintron said.
“Leisure is recovering far more aggressively than business,” she told North Tampa Bay Chamber members.
Initial expectations were that it would take two years to three years for business travel to return.
But, Cintron said: “I am telling you, in being at the airport, you’re starting to see those folks who are wearing their logo shirts, they’re wearing company clothes. They’re coming with their carry-ons and you know they’re business travelers. We were not expecting to see that now.”
Business travel is now expected to resume quicker than initially thought, she said.
“We are recovering aggressively,” she said. The airport expects to be back to pre-pandemic seat capacity as early as September, Cintron added.
While traffic is picking up now, the bottom dropped out in 2020 because of COVID-19.
The airport was coming off 22 million passengers in 2019, leading up to the pandemic. It expects to be at 16 million passengers for fiscal year 2021.
“Early on, we got hit. Think about the impact when you see, at your worst, in this pandemic, we saw maybe 1,500 passengers in one day. In one day, for an entire airport complex. Think about that,” she said.
“It was eerie. It was like a ghost town.
“So, for our retailers and our restaurants, and the different concessionaires that operate out of the airport, many of them had to close. It was not sustainable to be open, when nobody is coming,” Cintron said.
The airport’s projected revenue losses exceeded $300 million, Cintron said, which is amplified because the airport is a regional economic driver.
“During shutdowns all over the country, people were still flying here. They wanted to be outside. They wanted to enjoy those outdoor attractions,” Cintron said, and they wanted to enjoy the area’s beautiful beaches.
TPA also was one of the first to develop a comprehensive safety program. It installed acrylic barriers, instituted social distancing for seating and required masks.
“We led the nation in doing so, really creating a model for other airports to follow, at a time of great uncertainty,” Cintron said, and the airport’s efforts led to international recognition.
The financial well-being of the airport has a spillover effect on the region.
As the nation’s 28th busiest airport, TPA supports 10,500 jobs directly and 121,000 jobs indirectly. It has an estimated $14 billion impact on the economy.
The three largest airlines, by market share at TPA, are Southwest, American and Delta. The most popular markets for passengers flying from TPA are New York, Chicago and Atlanta, Cintron said.
There are about 500 daily flight operations at TPA, including 90 nonstop destinations. The airport has about 30 international destinations.
As TPA looks ahead, it is always seeking to enhance its services, Cintron said.
Recently, Breeze Airways chose TPA for its inaugural market with nonstop flights from Tampa to Charleston, South Carolina. The airline plans to operate 10 inaugural routes from TPA, mostly to cities not currently served, including Louisville, Kentucky and Richmond, Virginia.
“When there’s competition, it benefits all of us,” Cintron said.
TPA’s international travel is beginning to pick up, but that’s happening gradually, Cintron said.
Copa Airline, which serves Panama City, Panama, returned to the airport in early June, and British Airways was expected to return later in the month. Grand Cayman expects to return this fall.
All of those plans are subject to change, however, because of the uncertainty about international travel at this point in the pandemic, Cintron said.
TPA continues planning for the future.
“Airport expansion is a key thing to make sure we are prepared for more passengers,” she said.
“Whether we’re a 22 million passenger a year airport, or a 25 million passenger a year airport, we are going to have the infrastructure to support that kind of traffic and demand.”
And, regardless if it’s building a new airside, adding an office tower, expanding parking or increasing shopping and dining options — the focus is on the customer experience, Cintron said.
“If our customers are happy, we’re doing our jobs and we take a lot of pride in doing that.
“We didn’t get the title of America’s favorite airport because we were offering three-star service. Everything we do at Tampa International Airport, we do as a five-star service for our customers,” Cintron said.
Tampa International Airport Accolades
No. 1 Medium-size Airport in U.S., 2019, Wall Street Journal
No. 2 Large Airport in North America, J.D. Power
No. 2 Best Large Airport, USA Today
Top 3 Airports in North America; Top 5 Airports in the World, Airports Council International
No. 4 Best Airport in U.S., Travel and Leisure
Source: Tampa International Airport
Tampa International Airport By the Numbers
- Four airsides/58 gates
- 70 shops and restaurants
- 23,000 parking spaces
- 500 daily flight operations
- 90-plus nonstop destinations
- 30 international destinations
Revised on June 30, 2021