TAMPA — They pull up along the airport curb, shift into park, and wait.
Maybe they're just waiting for Aunt Bertha to wheel her bag over from the bench. Maybe they're waiting for her to grab her bags from the carousel. Maybe they're waiting for her to get off the tram — or the plane. Maybe they're even waiting for her plane to land.
Well, Tampa International Airport has had enough lollygagging. Starting this month, officials will ban idling in the curbside arrival lanes.
Unless drivers are there to pick up someone who's already at the curb or walking out of the terminal's automatic doors, traffic specialists and airport police will ask them to move along.
"We'll work with our customers to ensure we're as helpful as we can be," said John Tiliacos, the airport's vice president of operations. "But we want them to keep moving."
Signs that say "loading only" will go up this month.
As Tampa International plans for expansion, its most pressing problem is traffic congestion. The airport handles an estimated 16.8 million passengers annually, but that is the most the red and blue arrival curbs can handle.
Officials believes the best way to alleviate traffic without spending millions is to change drivers' behavior. Eliminating idling also will prolong the life of the terminal's curbs by another 20 years, when the airport expects to serve 28.7 million travelers a year.
During peak traffic now, lines of cars stretch from the terminal onto the George J. Bean Parkway. Parking is allowed only in the first two curb lanes. When those back up, safety becomes an issue: As cars jockey for curb position, passengers dash out to the third and fourth lanes to catch their ride.
The changes were announced at Thursday's board meeting of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, which oversees the airport.
Dr. Joseph Diaco, a board member, complained that rules are enforced too subjectively.
"Right now it's at the whim of a police officer," he said. "People pull around and see someone else sitting there, and (the officer) waves them along saying 'Don't stop.'
"That's wrong. It has to be consistent for everybody."
Tampa International Airport police Chief Paul Sireci assured the board that when the rule changes are made that enforcement will be consistent.
"If we tell the (driver) to move and here they come with the bags, we'll work with that," Sireci said. "If they think they're at the belt, that doesn't work."
Officials conducted a trial run of the new rules over the Thanksgiving holiday and said they worked fine. According to Tampa officials, theirs is the last major airport in Florida to allow curbside idling. Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and Jacksonville don't allow it.
The airport's police officers and traffic specialists are trained in verbal jujitsu, the art of cajoling drivers to move along. Soon those staffers will be trained to explain the other options to drivers: the cell phone waiting lot, where drivers can park for free, access WiFi and bathrooms and watch for their flight's arrival on giant screens; and the short-term parking garage, where the first hour is free.
But the airport's customer surveys also revealed that 60 percent of drivers who frequent the airport are well aware of those options. They just choose not to use them.
Jamal Thalji can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3404.