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St. Pete-Clearwater airport traffic to dwindle

Allegiant Air employee Tim Rickow, left, helps Henry Eddleman, 72, of Orlando buy a ticket Tuesday at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport.

EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN | Times

Allegiant Air employee Tim Rickow, left, helps Henry Eddleman, 72, of Orlando buy a ticket Tuesday at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport.

Travelers fed up with the stress of flying love the little airport across the bridge from Tampa International.

Real people, not touch-screen machines, serve you at the ticket counter. Security screening moves at an unhurried speed. Nonstop flights whisk you to points north without changing planes in Atlanta or Charlotte or New York City.

Come fall, the relaxed pace at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport will turn downright glacial.

USA 3000, the second-biggest carrier, says adios Aug. 18. About the same time, No. 1 Allegiant Air will kick into low gear for the slow weeks after Labor Day. The discount airline flies half of all customers at St. Petersburg-Clearwater, typically with two to four weekly flights to each of 15 small-city destinations.

But Allegiant will keep flying to only three cities — Chattanooga and Knoxville, Tenn., and Greenville/Spartanburg, S.C. — throughout September and October. Half its local routes will go dark between mid August until November at the soonest.

"We're going to be quiet in September and October,'' airport director Noah Lagos says.

Allegiant isn't selling tickets for flights after Oct. 31 yet. A self-described optimist, Lagos expects the airline will restore its schedule for the winter holidays. But with most airlines cutting back to deal with record jet fuel prices, he admits there's no guarantee.

It's easy to write off St. Petersburg-Clearwater as a cute sideshow to Tampa International. But customers, especially those rattled by crowds and complexity, swear by it. Let's hope Noah and that other airport by the bay can weather this storm.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

St. Pete-Clearwater airport traffic to dwindle 06/03/08 [Last modified: Thursday, June 5, 2008 1:22pm]
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