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  1. Florida

People love Tampa International Airport so much that hundreds signed up just to hang out there

No flight? No problem. You can still enjoy TIA’s restaurants and shops if you book a Saturday spot now.
A look at the Icelander Hekla Aurora 757 Northern Lights airplane while it is parked at the gate before the next flight at Tampa International Airport in 2018. [DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published May 3
Updated May 3

When Tampa International Airport launched its all access program Tuesday, airport officials expected that some people would be interested in trying the restaurants and shops even if they didn’t have a ticket to fly anywhere.

But TIA had no idea the idea would be this popular.

It has been three and a half days since the airport started accepting bookings, and 600 people are already signed up.

Every Saturday in May is already booked, and June will soon be full, too.

“We may get more people as we go," airport spokeswoman Emily Nipps said. "We’re still just watching to see how it goes. “

Related content: Tampa airport to allow non-fliers to try its airside cuisine

The program is free, and it has wide appeal to a number of groups, Nipps said. There are the aviation geeks, young and old, who love watching planes take off. There are the foodies, who love that TIA’s restaurants defy the stereotype of bad airport food. And then there are the couples, who see this as an opportunity to try something new for date night.

Guests must sign up at least 24 hours before they show up. The program is only available on Saturdays now, and they can book up to three months in advance.

There is a cap of 100 participants each Saturday, with only 25 slots available for each gate. Non-fliers also have to choose which airside they’d like to visit:

  • Airside A offers Dylan’s Candy Bar, a boutique candy shop chain, as well as Burger 21 and airport versions of local restaurants like New York New York Pizza and Ducky’s Sports Lounge.
  • Airside C is only for Southwest fliers and has the most options, including outposts from local spots like Cigar City Brewing, Ulele, Cafe con Leché Ybor City, Bavaro’s Pizza and Goody Goody Café. If you want to sample grilled oysters, warm churros or homemade pizza, this is the place.
  • Airside E is normally reserved for Delta and Frontier passengers. It features the airport’s Columbia Cafe location and boasts the only Potbelly Sandwich Shop in Florida.
  • Airside F is the international terminal. It’s home to The Cafe by Mise en Place, the airport’s version of the popular downtown restaurant. Airside S also has the pirate-themed Gasparilla Bar, as well as a food court with Bella’s Italian Café and Yogurtology.

Some have expressed concerns about security risks, but the airport doesn’t anticipate issues. Each participant will undergo a security check and have their name run through the no fly list.

“We picked Saturday because it’s our least busy day at our TSA checkpoint,” Nipps said. “We really don’t think 25 people between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. will make a big difference."

The first group of non-fliers will come to the airport on Saturday.

“We’re not counting on this to make us any money," Nipps said. "We really just want this to be something that people enjoy and that leaves a good impression on people.“

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