Why aren’t more airports like Tampa’s?

For the past 30 years, I have been traveling in and out of Tampa regularly (I married into the area). Almost every good practice or design I’ve seen in any U.S. airport, I’ve seen at Tampa’s first. Other than a glitchy car rental system (okay, I’m spoiled by the way Hertz Gold works and Tampa is the only place where you have to stand in line), Tampa’s airport seems to be designed by people who actually think as passengers. It has a great “user-interface” with signage at the right spots, saying the right thing. It has public spaces that are both functional and aesthetically pleasing. And it is the first airport I know that has redesigned its security check-in area in a way that expedites flow in a space that seems intended to comfort the checking-in passenger with reassuring grandeur.

I often see Tampa’s influence in other airports — some of the most striking examples are in other Florida cities, especially Orlando — but for the most part, airport planners seem more focused on the logistics of moving people around, rather than on the experience people have in the airport space.

Oh, and one last thing. Tampa’s airport was one of the first I encountered that offered FREE wifi to passengers. They don’t (like Nashville’s BNA, for example) try to hijack passengers into paying several dollars for a few minutes of checking e-mail or altering travel plans, they understand that free wifi should be an infrastructure convenience like air-conditioning that can be used as a competitive advantage.

Also, if your airport has free wifi, I’ll almost always give it a shout-out love post if I’m sitting in it waiting for a plane (like now). Oh, yeah. And someone will likely add a love-link to your airport at the SmallBusiness.com directory of airports with free wifi.

[Note: For the record, I now travel with a USB device (Sierra Wireless is the brand) that allows me (or others in my office who travel and who can use it, as it’s not tied to one computer) to tap into AT&T’s 3G network.]

Later: Speaking of free wifi, JetBlue, Yahoo! and RIM have announced an in-air means to access IM and email during flights. Doesn’t sound like full-fledged web-access, but it sounds like it’s worth the price.

  • Let’s not forget the nation-wide mad dash for electrical outlets in airports. Have you seen the sad traveler (me) prowling up and down the gate areas looking for a power connection. The outright joy for finding a chair and an outlet at the same space. The socialization of sharing PLUG SPACE with stragners.

  • Rex Hammock

    You are so correct, Bo. The Jet Blue waiting area at JFK, while in some ways a third-world experience, has a great solution regarding outlets — they have “sponsored” outlet kiosks. Can’t recall which, but on of the cell-phone manufacturers is the advertiser.

  • Jim Brown

    Rex,

    Tampa’s airport is cool, but I can never hear on my cellphone because of the acoustics. Here are my airport favorites and not-so-favorites:

    Good ones:
    Charlotte
    Reagan National

    Not the best:
    Norfolk (a nightmare in every respect)
    Philadelphia (always a wait)

  • Rex,

    You are right, Tampa is a great airport. I was through the Tampa airport this past weekend and couldn’t find a flaw. Tampa has more experience than any other major city in the airport business as the first regularly scheduled airline flight in the world ran from St. Petersburg to Tampa back in 1914.

  • Let’s also not forget the very nice aspect of having security at the airsides rather than in the main terminal, which keeps the security lines much shorter.

    For me, the user experience generally translates to:

    1. Length of time it takes to get places — through security, gate to gate, etc.

    2. Variety of shops/quality of shops — either to kill time, eat, or to get something I need.

    3. Comfort — Outlets, chairs, airport clubs, free wifi, etc..

    My favorites/least favorites:

    Favorites:

    Tampa (short security lines, good mix/quantity of shops, free wifi)
    Charlotte (good variety of shops, short walks, pleasant atmosphere)
    Atlanta (Variety of shops/quality of shops, lots of outlets and recharge stations)
    Reagan (It’s not Dulles)
    San Diego (Can’t remember why, actually)

    Least Favorites:

    Dulles (long walks, dumb inter-terminal transport vehicles)
    Minneapolis (complete maze)
    Memphis (dingy, crummy shops that close early)
    Las Vegas (long walks, long security lines, crummy baggage area with weak signage)
    London/Gatwick (the walk to baggage claim is longer than the flight from the States)
    Dallas (Crummy inter-terminal train, wacky design, quantity of shops)
    Cincinnati (Crummy inter-terminal bus, long waits at restaurants)
    Salt Lake City (Checked bags have to go through the X-ray pre-checkin?!, plus long lines/crummy shops)

    On the fence:

    Detroit (Long walk, but a semi-reasonable transport system; decent shops).