When times are tight, you put off the new bedroom addition and paint the living room instead.
That's akin to what the people running Tampa International Airport have in mind for the coming year. With passenger traffic down for the second year in a row, their emphasis is on keeping the place looking good and running smoothly.
Many of the $31 million in new projects for the year starting Oct. 1 sound downright mundane: low-flow toilets, upgraded public address systems and new carpeting in 16 shuttle cars, 40 elevators, four elevator lobbies and a play area for kids.
Trying to stifle a yawn?
Ask yourself how many times you've had to wait at airports, bags in hand, for a working elevator or functional toilet. My airport gross-out moment: sitting beside a dark stain the size of a walrus in a carpet at Philadelphia International. It was the only open seat at my US Airways gate. Yick.
Airports present special upkeep problems. An average of 75,000 visitors — departing and arriving passengers, friends and relatives — tromp through Tampa International daily. Al Illustrato, the airport's maintenance boss, compares the task to cleaning up after a sold-out Bucs game every day.
Crews vacuum the dense, woven carpeting in high-traffic areas each night. They deep-clean with "extractors," sort of Stanley Steemers on steroids, at least once a week. Stains and gum get dispatched ASAP.
Eventually, things just wear out. Illustrato and his staff keep tabs on how long massive air handlers and the laminated finishes on gate podiums should last. They track how they're holding up and budget for replacements.
It's not sexy like building a new parking garage or a hangar-sized passenger terminal. But travelers, particularly seasoned business fliers, notice this stuff.
In recent passenger surveys, Tampa International scored significantly higher than the average of all airports, with especially high marks — bet ween "very good" and "excellent" — for cleanliness and "attractiveness of airport."
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The paperless airline ticket is nothing new. But how about the paperless boarding pass?
You can try it out at Tampa International if you're flying Continental Airlines. The carrier sends an encrypted boarding pass to your cell phone or PDA. Transportation Security Administration officers can scan the image to ensure it's authentic.
The new process started at Tampa International in the last few weeks. Only a handful of travelers each day are using it now, says Gary Milano, the TSA federal security director for Tampa Bay. But more savvy travelers should catch on soon.
Steve Huettel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3384.