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.