Super Bowl organizers expect about 100,000 out-of-town visitors to arrive in the Tampa Bay area over the two weeks leading up to the game on Sunday, Feb. 1.
And most of them will leave the next day.
That will make it perhaps the busiest day ever for Tampa International Airport, says executive director Louis Miller. Only the Monday after Tampa's Super Bowl in 2001 comes close.
Some 32,000 to 35,000 passengers will jam the 220 scheduled flights leaving TIA, plus charters and extra flights added by airlines, Miller said. That's about 50 percent more travelers than fly out on a typical day.
Visitors will return more than 6,000 rental cars, so many that companies at the main terminal won't be able to drive them to remote lots fast enough. Tampa International officials are making the bottom floor of the long-term garage available for temporary rental car parking.
Super Bowl charter buses will be required to queue up in a staging area near the airport post office and wait until directed to drop off passengers. Otherwise, the 200 buses expected, along with fleets of limos and taxis, would clog up traffic lanes at the main terminal's departure level, says Ed Cooley, a senior director at the airport.
The Transportation Security Administration plans to keep all 27 screening lanes open at the four airside terminals Feb. 2 and 3 by bringing 50 security officers from Orlando International to bolster the Tampa staff, spokeswoman Sari Koshetz said.
TIA will deploy additional traffic officers to patrol the curbs and guides to help visitors find their way. A beefed-up janitorial staff will make extra rounds cleaning restrooms and dumping trash cans.
"We want the Super Bowl to come back, so we'll put all the resources into it that are possible," Miller said.
Officials didn't keep a passenger count for the Monday after the 2001 Super Bowl. Outbound traffic for January 2001 was 73,000 higher than the same month a year earlier. Most of that came from the Super Bowl, though not all on the following Monday, Cooley said.
High-fliers arriving for this year's game could spend time cooling their jets, too.
Security rules imposed since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks severely restrict flights by private aircraft within 10 miles of Raymond James Stadium, a zone that includes TIA, from 4 p.m. to midnight on Super Bowl Sunday.
Private jets can land and leave from TIA during that window only with a government waiver. Passengers need to pass background checks, and federal officers must inspect the aircraft before it takes off.
In 2001, 350 corporate jets parked at the airport after the game got stuck in a massive traffic jam trying to leave. The last didn't take off until 3 a.m. or later, Cooley said.
The departure should be faster this year, he said. Only 200 to 250 private jets will park at Tampa International, with others at Vandenburg Airport east of Tampa. Also, the airport will have personnel on the ground directing jets to the runway in an orderly fashion.
On the morning after the Super Bowl last year, travelers at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport faced huge lines at ticket counters, spokeswoman Julie Rodriguez said. Hundreds of additional planes taking off and a rare winter rainstorm delayed flights.
But passengers moved through the airport fairly briskly, she said. Sky Harbor employees steered travelers to shorter curbside check-in stations. Rental car customers were warned ahead of time to return vehicles at least three hours before their flights.
"I've never seen a day that busy," said Rodriguez, who's in her sixth year at Sky Harbor.
Steve Huettel can be reached at (813) 226-3384 or firstname.lastname@example.org.