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TIA turns 40: Through the years, Tampa International Airport worker has seen it all

Anita Bailey worked the Avis rental car counter when the radically redesigned Tampa International Airport opened 40 years ago this month.

She's still there today.

Much has changed since April 15, 1971, Bailey says, but "this is still the nicest airport. And the easiest to get around.''

Yet Day One was hardly an unqualified success.

Travelers ignored color-coded signs and rode escalators down to the wrong baggage claim.

For her part, Bailey found that friends she had made in the cozy old airport where now scattered around the spacious new one.

"I missed the closeness,'' says Bailey, now in her 46th year with Avis in Tampa.

Closeness fell victim to the unique design: a multilevel main terminal with parking on top and shuttles that swiftly carried passengers to planes at new airside terminals.

The idea: reduce a traveler's walking distance to no more than 600 feet.

Tampa International still collects kudos, most recently ranking third among medium-size U.S. airports last year in a customer satisfaction survey by J.D. Power.

Bailey, 66, and her family watched the airport evolve up close.

Her husband, George, was Tampa station manager for PanAm and an airport traffic supervisor. Daughter Shannon Seiffer works at TIA in human resources and is married to an airport police lieutenant.

In the mod '70s, Avis counter girls — they were all female — dressed in red hot pants, berets and white knee-high boots. Just like airline flight attendants.

Customers were almost exclusively businessmen. Avis offered five car choices: full-size, luxury, wagon, compact and convertible.

Shopping at the terminal was largely limited to Florida T-shirts and trinkets for tourists.

A smoke shop with a cigar roller out front sold local brands.

Taboos imposed by longtime executive director George Bean, gum sales and baggage carts, hung on until 1998. "He thought they'd hit a pillar with a cart and break the tile,'' says Bailey.

Back then, men traveled in suits, women, sometimes, in hats and gloves. Today, anything goes, Bailey says. Women wear shorts and bikini tops and guys traipse around in flip-flops.

Travel four decades ago "was not as stressed as now,'' Bailey observes and today, "the public is a little more demanding.''

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

TIA through time

April 15, 1971: Dr. Julio Herzer walks off National Airlines Flight 36 from Los Angeles to become the first arriving passenger at new Tampa International Airport. Bound for Miami, he tells reporters, "I only got off to get some cigarettes.''

December 1973: The nine-story Tampa Airport Marriott Hotel, with a rotating restaurant on top, opens.

December 1974: TIA surpasses 5 million annual travelers.

January 1996: Southwest Airlines begins 12 flights from Tampa to Baltimore, Fort Lauderdale, Nashville, New Orleans and St. Louis.

May 1996: The Aviation Authority board picks Louis Miller to succeed George Bean, who retired in June after 31 years as executive director.

December 1987: TIA surpasses 10 million passengers.

June 1998: The airport lifts its ban on chewing gum sales.

October 1998: A long-debated interfaith chapel opens on the third-floor transfer level.

March 2004: Southwest passes Delta Air Lines as the airport's busiest airline.

November 2005: The first remote economy garage opens with a rate of $7 per day, half the price of the long-term parking garage.

February 2010: Miller submits his resignation after conflicts with board members. He is picked to run Atlanta's airport seven months later.

September 2010: The Aviation Authority board selects Joseph Lopano, an executive at Dallas-Fort Worth International, as TIA's executive director effective Jan. 1, 2011.

March 2011: Tampa International receives federal approval for flights to Cuba.

Tampa International Airport 1971 2011
Annual passengers 3.4 million 16.8 million (estimated)
Parking spaces 2,881 21,942
Parking fee (90 minutes, short term) $1 $5
Parking fee (24 hours, long term) $1.75 $15
Airlines flying there 12 22
Biggest airlines Eastern, Delta, National Southwest, Delta, US Airways
Top destinations Atlanta, New York, Chicago N.Y., Chicago, Philadelphia
Pay phones 315 78

TIA turns 40: Through the years, Tampa International Airport worker has seen it all 04/02/11 [Last modified: Saturday, April 2, 2011 4:01pm]
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