Tampa International Airport prepares for record summer travel

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — As Memorial Day weekend approaches, Tampa International Airport officials are not only preparing for a busy weekend, but also a busy summer travel season.

TPA is predicting that the summer travel season could reach record levels.

“We anticipate that certainly several days throughout the summer season are going to set records for us and we’re optimistic that as we put the summer in totality, we will set new records,” said Adam Bouchard, Vice President of Operations for Tampa International Airport.

Some were not surprised by these projections.

“Oh my goodness, everyone has been locked up for the last couple years, so everybody can’t wait to get out,” said Patti Tennyson.

With peak days now exceeding pre-pandemic levels, TPA, its airlines, federal agency partners and other airport businesses are getting ready to see steady and heavy volumes of more than 70,000 daily passengers.

Airport and TSA officials said they have added staff, and new equipment to prepare for the increase in passengers.

Jesus Serrano, TSA Assistant Federal Security Director for Screening Operations said TSA Officers will be utilizing new security scanners that use 3D imaging to scan passenger carry-on items.

“It’s called Computed Tomography, these are x-ray scanners that allow the officers to do an in-depth analysis for prohibited items of bags and carry-ons. It allows the officers to rotate the 3-D image and look for those prohibited items, that would otherwise require the bag to be opened,” Serrano said.

TSA officials are asking for travelers to help keep security lines running smoothly by knowing what carry-on items are prohibited. Items such as sharp objects, large containers of liquids and certain food items can actually cause delays at security checkpoints.

“When the travelers understand and know what’s required it’s a seamless process,” said Serrano.

TPA officials urge passengers to arrive early for flights, especially on peak days. They are also asking passengers to utilize technology to check-in for their flight, arrange parking, and follow flight activity.

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Traveling Kentucky fans provide home court advantage in Tampa | Sports


Fans pour into Amalie Arena before the UK vs. Vanderbilt SEC Tournament quarterfinals mens basketball game on Friday, March 11, 2022, in Tampa, Florida. UK won 77-71. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

TAMPA, Fla.—Despite the SEC Tournament being held in Tampa instead of its usual home in Nashville, Big Blue Nation showed up for its team, providing a home atmosphere for Kentucky, over 800 miles away from Lexington.

It’s a common phrase in the SEC basketball world that ‘Blue gets in’, referencing Kentucky Wildcats fans’ ability to create a home atmosphere for UK nearly anywhere in the country, with Tampa being no different.

Over 17,000 fans packed Amalie Arena, home of the Tampa Bay Lightning, on Friday night, and the wave of blue shirts was visible in every direction.

Kentucky fans were even visible in mobs during Tennessee and Mississippi State’s prior game, creating splotches of blue amongst the orange and maroon canvas.

“Our fans travel,” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said after Kentucky’s 77-71 win over Vanderbilt. “If we played in Montana, they would be there. I don’t know how they’d get there, I dunno if it’s a wagon train, I don’t have any idea, but they’re there and they’re loud.”

The Wildcat fans played a factor in pushing UK over a Vanderbilt team that entered with momentum after defeating Alabama 82-76 the night prior, with Commodore players even admitting as much after the loss.

“It felt like a home game for them,” Vanderbilt’s Jordan Wright said. “It felt like we were playing at Rupp. We were just talking about that in the locker room. They had a great crowd that had great energy. When they needed to be picked up, when they needed some energy, their fans were there. Hats off to them for traveling the way they do and having a fan base like that.”

Wright’s teammate, Scotty Pippen Jr, echoed the sentiment and spoke to how it hurt the Commodores as they fought to continue their tournament run.

“The fans, they feed off their energy,” Pippen said. “Just knowing that we don’t have the same traveling fans… we try to create our own energy throughout that just knowing we got each other.”

Entering the tournament there was talks that Auburn fans may pack the house more than BBN, and though Auburn fans showed out early for the Tiger’s noon tip-off, it paled in comparison to the Wildcat attendance.

“We were getting on the bus and police had to get them away from the tunnel,” Calipari said. “They were trying to run down next to the bus. I know somebody said there’s a team [other than Kentucky] that’s going to have all the fans. What, are you out of your mind? Are you smoking crack? I guess if you say it enough then it’s true.”

The atmosphere also helped boost one Kentucky player specifically, with freshman TyTy Washington Jr scoring 25 points in his first ever SEC Tournament game.

“It was crazy,” Washington said. “When we first got out there everybody was screaming. I looked in the crowd to see nothing but blue shirts. Whenever I hear that ‘Go Big Blue’ chant it’s just unreal.”

Kentucky point guard Sahvir Wheeler recalled his time with Georgia in the SEC Tournament before transferring to UK.

“I remember my freshman year,” Wheeler said. “Playing against Ole Miss, I looked up in the stands expecting red, but no, I saw a lot of Kentucky shirts out there. Tonight, like TyTy said, I think my favorite part is when it comes time to make that run and we kind of hear that ‘Go Big Blue’. It gives me goosebumps just having the support of our fans traveling with us, they make a difference for sure.”

With a tough matchup against Tennessee, another fanbase that appeared to travel well, set for 3 p.m. EST the very next day, Calipari spoke to the importance of having Wildcats fans in the arena.

“It makes this place what it is — our fans,” He said. “They’re crazy, but I love them. I love our fans. I say they’re crazy, I’ll watch this tape tonight and I just watched it because I coached it. I’ll watch the tape one time. We have fans who watch it three times. What’s wrong with you? I watch it once and I coached the team, you’re watching it three times? That’s what makes our fans unique and different.”

Kentucky takes on Tennessee on Saturday, March 12, inside Amalie Arena in the SEC Tournament Semi’s at 3 p.m. EST.

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Tampa man stuck in Russia due to restrictions on air travel, finances

American’s are having a hard time fleeing Russia after the European Union and Canada restricted airspace, blocking planes from flying over.  

Johnathan Bush spoke to FOX 13 from Moscow, after the plane he was on had to do a U-turn. He had been spending the last several weeks visiting his wife’s family.   

“They turned the plane around, everyone is panicking, and all the women are crying and I’m like, ‘I’m really about to be stuck in Russia during this war,'” Bush told FOX 13. 

He and his wife didn’t think Vladimir Putin would escalate the situation with Ukraine so quickly.

UPDATES: What to know as Ukrainian troops resist advance on key cities

Sunday the U.S. State Department issued a dire warning for American citizens to get out of the country, while acknowledging many flights had already been canceled because of the restricted airspace.

Bush and his wife returned to Moscow where they are having trouble using several American credit cards as U.S. companies restrict access, in protest over the Russian invasion.  

Joe Mestas’ wife was in Russia to take care of her mother and was on the same flight.

MORE: FedEx, UPS halting shipments to Russia and Ukraine amid conflict

“I called the State Department three times yesterday and they weren’t much help,” Mestas told FOX 13.  

American’s have been told by the State Department to flee the county, but without help from the United States.

Both families say they are hearing very little from the State Department Monday.  

More coverage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine:

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Year-round travel from North Central West Virginia Airport to Tampa to begin in spring | Harrison News

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Automated train outage at Tampa International makes a long travel day even longer for some

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Dan Anderson is a Tampa attorney and an experienced traveler who is very familiar with Tampa International Airport. After a long day of travel Sunday night, Anderson and dozens of other travelers ran into a problem when the SkyConnect train system shut down.

The SkyConnect is an automated train system that takes travelers from the main terminal building to the Economy Garage and Rental Car Center.

“The lady said, ‘well the tram is not working so you’ve got to go back down to curbside and there are going to be busses running,’” Anderson said. “Well, she didn’t say it was the red side, curbside, so I went to the Blue side.”

He was traveling by himself and only had one bag and a backpack, but he says others were not as fortunate.

“There were people with small children, it was late, elderly people, people with lots of baggage, golf clubs that they had to load onto this bus or mini bus or whatever, carting all of this stuff around,” Anderson said.

“It’s just not the type of thing you would want to have happen at that time of night.”

An airport spokesperson says a power outage caused the train to go down. The outage lasted about 90 minutes. Anderson said it took him at least that long to get from the terminal to his parked car. He said he was most disappointed by a lack of clear communication about the issue and where to go to get alternate transportation.

“I would have thought we would have thought this through, we would have some kind of a game plan for when something eventually breaks because we know it’s going to break” he said. “It’s such a great airport, you know we expect more and I think we are lucky to have a great airport and it was surprising to me to see how unprepared they were for what happened last night.

A statement from Tampa International Airport said “Along with safety, customer service is a top priority at TPA and we strive to deliver a perfect experience to our travelers. We apologize that we missed the mark in this instance, and we continue to look for ways we can improve service in the event of unforeseen circumstances such as this one.”

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Bears Travel to Tampa Bay to Face Tom Brady and the Buccaneers | Chicago News

Green Bay Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers, last season’s league MVP, took his record against the Chicago Bears to 21 wins and just five losses. Adding insult to injury, Rodgers riled up Bears’ fans with an “I own you” jibe. Now rookie quarterback Justin Fields and the Bears have a Sunday date in Tampa Bay with seven-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady and the Buccaneers.

Former Bears offensive lineman James “Big Cat” Williams give us his take on Fields as starter and his three keys to the game against the Buccaneers. (WTTW News graphic)Former Bears offensive lineman James “Big Cat” Williams give us his take on Fields as starter and his three keys to the game against the Buccaneers. (WTTW News graphic)

1. The Bears started the way you knew they had to in order to have a chance against the Green Bay Packers. The Bears defense forced the Packers to punt on their opening drive and then offensively they had an eight play, 80-yard drive capped off with a Khalik Herbert one-yard touchdown run.

The offense had five drives in a row where they went one interception and four punts before getting themselves back into the game with another 80-yard drive late in the game to make the score 14-17.

Then Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers did Rodgers’ stuff. A seven play, 75-yard drive with Rodgers scrambling for a six-yard touchdown run and proclaiming he “still owns” the Bears.

All that to say the Bears are going to need a good start against Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but they are also going to need to find a way to sustain that momentum throughout the game.

2. Offensively the Bears must stay with the running game.

Over the past three weeks the run game has looked decent with 140 yards against the Packers on 26 carries, 143 yards against the Las Vegas Raiders on 37 carries and 188 yards against the Detroit Lions on 39 carries. But the Bucs are giving up under 60 yards a game rushing.

The Bucs are very stout up front with Ndamukong Sun, Vita Veah, William Gholston and Jason Pierre-Paul. The Bears cannot give up on running the ball even if it’s not exactly looking its best early in the game.

3. Defensively they will have to tighten everything up.

Even with everyone healthy, stopping Brady and Bucs offense is a tall task. They will have to play their best game of this young season. This means everyone being in their proper gaps and not getting driven out of those gaps against the run.

Everyone in the secondary needs to communicate with each other and know their responsibilities — no blown assignments against the pass. And tackling is a must with running back Leonard Fournette coming out of the backfield and wide receivers Antonio Brown and Mike Evans and tight end O.J. Howard running around in the secondary. They all have the ability to turn short pass completions into long gains.


Bears 21 Bucs 31

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Record-breaking travel weekend expected at Tampa airport

Travel experts predict a major bounce back in air travel on Memorial Day weekend. Tampa International Airport is preparing to see more people this weekend than they’ve seen in more than a year.

The influx in passengers is why the airport is asking people to get to the airport at least 2 hours before their flight. The airport hasn’t seen this many people in a while so it’s definitely a major boost to business and gives a peek at what’s expected to be a busy summer travel season.

An airport that’s gone months without its typical high volume of travelers is now gearing up for a holiday weekend that’ll be the busiest since early 2020.

“Leisure travelers are just really antsy to get out. People are really eager to travel again. We’re seeing areas open up again. The CDC guidelines are starting to ease up a little bit so people are feeling more comfortable traveling,” Tampa International Airport spokesperson Emily Nipps said.

Tampa International Airport is trying its best to keep up with the sudden return. As Nipps explains, the airport is still down a few hundred employees. Their initial projections which were made before the vaccine was widely available didn’t anticipate this large of return so soon.

“It’s wonderful to see people back at the airport. It’s starting to look more normal again. We still have some limited hours for certain shops and restaurants,” Nipps said.

The majority of stores and dining options that closed during the pandemic are now back open.

At its lowest in April of 2020, the airport saw an average of only 1,500 passengers per day. Now, they’re seeing around 58,000 per day and expect to see upwards of 65,000 passengers each day of the Memorial Day weekend. If you’re one of them, you can expect longer than normal wait times as airlines and airports work to better stagger flight times.

“You might see that if 3 or 4 flights are all going out in the same hour, you’ll going to see longer lines at the checkpoints. We’re working that out. We’re kind of re-learning how to operate with higher volumes again,” Nipps said.

If you’re flying this weekend, be sure to bring masks which are required on flights through September.

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Tampa Bay travel industry holding job fair ahead of expected rush of tourists

Restrictions dropping around the country have people packing their bags for a summer vacation, and Tampa Bay’s airports are hiring to help meet the demand.

The job market is heating up just in time for the busiest travel season.

“We already had a 25% increase in March, so we’re looking for summer to be busy,” said Michele Routh, the public relations director at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport.

The number of passengers walking through local airports picked up so much that dozens of people landed jobs on the spot Monday with Allegiant Airlines at St. Pete-Clearwater airport.

MORE: Trucking industry in desperate need of drivers

“They are hiring 80 part-time positions, including both customer service representatives and the ground crew as well,” said Routh.

The challenge now is to hire enough workers to handle pent-up travel demand from pandemic lockdowns.

“I would say a lot of the employers who work in the airport or the hospitality industry were caught a little bit off guard. They didn’t realize our numbers would be this good, and they didn’t realize how hard it would be to get those workers,” said Emily Nipps, a spokesperson at Tampa International Airport.

Tampa’s airport will host a job fair Tuesday, hiring more than 300 positions. The in-person part of the event is 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. with no registration required, and the virtual job fair is 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. with registration required

“It’s definitely a good way to visit a lot of different employers and see what all the different jobs are they have to offer and talk to a lot of people in a short amount of time,” said Nipps about the virtual part of the job fair.

TPA jobs range from concessions to rental car jobs, parking, management positions, aviation and more. But the competition to lure employees is fierce within the hospitality industry right now, so companies are stepping it up to get new employees in the door.

“Things like hiring bonuses which they never offered before. Some of the companies that did not offer insurance before are now offering insurance,” said Nipps.

So if you’re looking for a job, Tampa Bay’s airports want your resume.

“This is a good time to be in the travel industry. It’s really picking up a lot. And so we’re hoping that that will bring out a good turnout,” said Nipps.

TPA plans to hire throughout the summer to fill positions to meet passengers’ travel needs.

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Tampa woman traveling over 100 mph charged with DUI after crashing into car dealership, injuring 3

Jennifer Carvajal, 24, who was on probation for DUI manslaughter, was arrested early Sunday morning after troopers say she was traveling 111 miles per hour on Interstate 4 before she crashed into Gator Ford injuring her three passengers.

According to the Florida Highway Patrol, a sergeant was traveling eastbound on I-4 just east of Mango Road when he clocked Carvajal’s Hyundai traveling westbound at 111 miles per hour. The sergeant pulled into the median and clocked it again at 111 miles per hour in stationary mode.

Without slowing, Carvajal’s vehicle passed the sergeant who then turned to overtake and stop her car, according to FHP. 

When the sergeant overtook the Hyundai, Carvajal turned hard to the right, entered the shoulder and became airborne after hitting the embankment running parallel to the interstate.

Courtesy: Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office

Once airborne, the Hyundai traveled over a FDOT fence and collided with a Ford F250 pickup truck parked at Gator Ford. Still in motion, the vehicle struck a concrete light pole and a palm tree before finally overturning at final rest in the parking lot. 

As the Hyundai overturned, a 19-year-old passenger was thrown from the front passenger seat to the rear seats of the vehicle as the other two passengers were completely ejected from the car. The 19-year-old and a 20-year-old suffered serious injuries and another male passenger, whose age is unknown, suffered critical injuries. 

Courtesy: Florida Highway Patrol

Carvajal, who troopers say was the only person in the car wearing a seatbelt, suffered minor injuries.

She has been charged with reckless driving-serious injury, DUI-serious injury, multiple counts of DUI property damage, no driver’s license-serious injury and violation of probation-DUI manslaughter.

UPDATES: Get news alerts and updates in the free FOX 13 News app

Courtesy: Florida Highway Patrol

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3 unusual Florida vacation spots, 4 hours or less from Tampa Bay

Our kid has been in virtual school all year. So when vacation weeks rolled around, staying in the house did not seem like a fun option. Weird!

Of course, safe travels are limited in a pandemic. We created a COVID vacation protocol: Find a house rental in a town fewer than four hours from Tampa Bay. The short drives reduced stopping time and also preserved some sanity (you feel cooped up in a house? Try a car). We’d stock up on groceries, stay inside, watch movies and play games, maybe venture to some nature. A change of scenery, as good as vacation gets in a pandemic.

Since we didn’t plan on going out much, our focus was on the homes more than the towns. We ended up in a round house on the beach, a cabin in the woods and, lastly, a houseboat. I am happy to report no one got seasick or floated away, but I do have a great idea for a horror novel now.

It’s easy to find unusual stays using the filters on any vacation rental site. On Airbnb, the “unique stays” category features everything from caves to castles. On VRBO, you can sort farmhouses and mills (okay!). If you like the vibe of camping but don’t love to sleep on the ground and walk a half-mile to the bathroom in the dark, try Glamping Hub for RV and cabin options.

Once we picked a destination based on the house, we explored the outdoor offerings nearby. It was a great reminder to throw a dart at a map, because adventure is all around. Cue John Williams soundtrack.

Here are three towns we might not have visited if not for the homebound energy this year. Thanks, I guess?

Related: Florida spring breakers, may your Airbnb checkout be satisfying

Little Gasparilla Island

The sunset at Little Gasparilla Island, on a July day last summer.
The sunset at Little Gasparilla Island, on a July day last summer. [ STEPHANIE HAYES | Times ]

This island in Charlotte County, west of Placida between Sarasota and Fort Myers, is accessed only via boat. You can walk the whole island in a quarter mile. There are no real roads, only dirt paths for golf carts, and no stores or restaurants. This is the ultimate isolation, perfect at the height of the pandemic. But if you just hate people, consider this a solid destination.

Drive time from Tampa Bay: Two hours

Where to stay: Plenty of rentals are available via the usual websites. But for one-stop information and house listings, check littlegasparilla.com. It answers every question, from how to catch the water taxi to how to get groceries delivered, so they’re sitting in your home when you get there. You can pack your own food, but I definitely suggest the delivery service. Who wants to lug a box of wine on a boat?

What to do: Relax! That’s it. Nothing much else to do. But you may encounter wildlife, from nesting turtles (leave them alone) to shorebirds. Plus, the sand is full of shark teeth and sand dollars for collectors.

Pro tip: Stay on the beach. Inland, the mosquitoes can be very swarmy.

Fort McCoy

A horse at Griffin Ranch in Fort McCoy last December.
A horse at Griffin Ranch in Fort McCoy last December. [ STEPHANIE HAYES | Times ]

Find this tiny spot in Marion County, northeast of Ocala between Sparr and Eureka. There’s one corner grocery store and a lot of rural charm. It’s all about RVs, farm and lake houses and country cottages here.

Drive time from Tampa Bay: Two hours

Where to stay: We chose the Griffin Ranch, a working horse ranch with onsite cottages. It’s rustic and quiet, and the friendly owners present a refreshing beverage as soon as you stop the car (enjoy, parents!). The ranch is home to horses, peacocks and places to sit around a fire and chill. Bring some DVDs to watch, as there’s no cable or streaming. thegriffinranch.com.

What to do: Take a short drive out of Fort McCoy and the options are plentiful. We walked the Yearling Trail in the Ocala National Forest, a 5.5-mile loop where Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings once stayed and gleaned literary inspiration. Consider a bike ride on the serene and surprisingly hilly Gainesville-Hawthorne State Park Trail, which leads right into the heart of the University of Florida and Gator country.

Pro tip: Prepare yourself for the sight and smell of well water, if you’re not used to it.

Fleming Island

This Clay County community southwest of Jacksonville is polished, residential and surrounded by scenic water views. It’s bordered by St. Johns River, Doctors Lake, Black Creek and Swimming Pen Creek.

Drive time from Tampa Bay: Four hours

Where to stay: We bunked on a houseboat in Doctors Lake Marina. Really, it was more of a floating container house tied to a dock. Search “HomeAWave” on VRBO and Airbnb for the exact spot, but more traditional houseboats are available for rent, too. The marina has daily boat rentals, a convenience store and the Sunset Tiki Bar for drinks, cornhole and giant Connect Four.

What to do: A walking and bike trail runs along Fleming Island for about 8 miles and ends up in Black Creek Park. Use caution on the mountain bike trails, or you’ll end up like me, sideways on the ground. Jacksonville and all it has to offer is just a short drive away. Check out Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park for a dog-friendly beach day.

Pro tip: We didn’t get seasick, but pack some Dramamine if you’re prone to motion sickness. It’s wild to see the scenery swaying in the distance.

Related: Read more columns from Stephanie Hayes

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