1. Opinion

Editorial: Patience during Tampa International Airport disruption will be rewarded

An unfamiliar refrain will likely join the noise of construction at Tampa International Airport for the next few months — the sound of customers grumbling. Rated one of the friendliest airports in the country year after year, Tampa International has spoiled those of us whose trips to lesser gateways always start and finish here. But you can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs, and they're cooking up quite an omelet at the airport — a nearly $1 billion improvement project that includes a consolidated car rental center near the entrance, an automated people mover and an expansion of the main terminal.

The interruptions required for this massive undertaking have been minimal until now, but last week airport officials announced nightly closures through the end of January — 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. — for the blue pickup and drop-off route for travelers flying Delta, American, United and JetBlue.

Travelers using this route (but not the red one) will be directed through the short-term parking garage instead. The construction will pause a couple of weeks around Thanksgiving, Christmas and the College Football Playoff national championship Jan. 9.

As you would expect from an airport so well run, measures have been taken to minimize the disruption. The closing avoids peak travel hours, although 10 p.m. would be better than 8 p.m.; extra personnel will help guide puzzled local motorists accustomed to the efficiency of the airport's normal ingress and egress; and special tickets will be issued so those driving through won't be charged for entering the parking garage.

In fact, those frequent flyers who spoke with Tampa Bay Times staff writer Justine Griffin last week shrugged off the closings in the blue lanes as they praised the airport's overall efficiency.

Still, any motorist who has sat through a lane closing during the ongoing construction project knows the potential for frayed nerves among those moving in and out of a place where time is always of the essence.

What's more, aside from those diverted from the blue pickup and drop-off lanes, the potential exists for hiccups throughout the short-term parking area.

So the best advice is to be patient, plan ahead and maybe schedule a flight with the temporary closings in mind should the interruption prove more serious than airport officials are indicating.

And above all, maintain perspective. This is an airport we all can love.

A perennial top 3 finisher in Travel + Leisure magazine's annual reader ranking of best domestic airports, Tampa International was singled out in the 2016 survey — released in July — for its maneuverability. "I will pay more for flights here because it is simply easy to navigate," one respondent said, and another: "The model for all U.S. airports."

Now, in fairness, few of the magazine's top 10 airports face the same pressures that America's busiest airports must deal with, including volume of boardings — nearly 50 million a year in Atlanta — and, for those serving the biggest markets, tight air space and urban encroachment.

But even in this comparison, Tampa International fares well.

Of the 30 busiest airports by boardings, as recorded for 2015 by the Federal Aviation Administration, only two make the Travel + Leisure top 10: Minneapolis and Tampa. Minneapolis, the 16th busiest, recorded 17.6 million passengers and Tampa, the 29th, had 9.2 million.

There's every reason to believe that ease of use will remain one of the hallmarks at Tampa International even as the airport grows — in volume of traffic, with the addition of exciting new international destinations as well as domestic flights, and in overall appeal, with the opening of new local restaurant and retail outposts.

But that can only be true if the airport deals with tomorrow's needs today. Keep this in mind, and count to 10 when necessary, and this disruption soon will be forgotten.