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Trapped in terminal confusion

There are many things we in the Tampa Bay area can be grateful for: sunshine, beaches, good theater, Weeki Wachee mermaids.

Add to that Tampa International Airport.

It and the similarly-designed Orlando airport are the only good-sized airports in the world that make sense to me. There is no way to get lost (once you get through the maze of roads surrounding them, which I usually leave up to Super Shuttle).

Once inside, those two airports are as easy to figure out as a single-wide mobile home. I kiss the toes of the person who designed these marvels.

I have new appreciation for TIA after having flown into some other airports and sent others off to navigate faraway airports in recent months. Smaller airports are okay; there are only so many places you can go.

It's the big airports that started out small, then grew like Topsy that are the most maddening.

A while back, I had a connecting flight in Houston's Intercontinental Airport. We were scheduled to land at the last gate at the end of a long corridor in Terminal A and take off 45 minutes later from the last gate in Terminal E, which is four uniquely-designed terminal buildings and at least four light years away.

I'm an okay sprinter, so running through A, B, C, D, and E wouldn't have posed a problem, except that when I looked at the maps of the terminal online, I couldn't find a way to get between Terminals A and B except to stroll across the tarmac, dodging arriving and departing airplanes, which I think may be illegal.

Fortunately, at the last minute, our plane was diverted to Terminal B, so we only had to sprint through B, C, D and E, plus a couple of parking garages and go up and down a few escalators and down some zig-zag halls to make it with, oh, 30 seconds to spare.

On the way through Terminal B, I saw several people with desperate faces pressed to the window looking wistfully toward their flight out of Terminal A, like Dustin Hoffman's character in The Graduate watching his beloved getting married at the altar as he screamed in frustration from behind a glassed-in balcony far above her.

So near, and yet so far.

I recently spent several hours on the Internet trying to help a house guest figure out how to make the trek from Houston's E to A, but we never figured it out. Fortunately, her plane landed in B, and, more fortunately, some airline pilots were walking from E to B and let her stalk along behind them, so she made it.

With all the gate changes, I'm beginning to wonder if Terminal A isn't a real place, but is only a myth, like Brigadoon, the village in Scotland that appears only once every 100 years. Perhaps someone put it on the Houston airport maps to confound and confuse anxious travelers trying to figure out how to get from, say, Gate E21 to Gate A2 in a limited amount of time.

One friend who actually did land at Terminal A said she ended up going outside and hailing a cab to take her around the various buildings to a multi-level parking garage where she could actually get into Terminal E by a seldom-used, mysterious-looking back door.

I once had a connecting flight in Dallas-Fort Worth, with about 50 minutes to make it. I could see my next flight across a tarmac, no more than 300 or 400 feet from me, but to get to it, I had to navigate five semi-circular terminals on foot or on a slow-moving "people mover."

I understand they have added a little train that circles the five terminals, but finding an entry door can be a challenge, and, once you have boarded, you have to be fast to get off at the right spot, or you just keep going and going, like the poor fellow in the Kingston Trio's song, MTA, who spent his life rumbling through the streets of Boston because he couldn't figure out when or where to depart.

People sometimes ask me if I intend to do much traveling once I retire. My swift answer: "Not unless I have to."

With the price of petrol and the hassle of air travel, my post-retirement travel plans are going to be the well-worn path between my sofa and the refrigerator.

Trapped in terminal confusion 04/25/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 30, 2008 11:59am]

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