Tampa International Airport

Airports ready for the return of travelers

Airports are empty. And hurting.

Airports Council International now estimates a drop of more than 4.6 billion passengers globally for all of 2020.

The airport trade group also estimates that total airport revenues worldwide will drop by more than $97 billion for 2020.

Still, airports are making plans for welcoming back travelers.

Orlando International Airport (MCO) says passengers will see new social distancing signs and markers through the airport terminal. Acrylic protective screens are being installed at ticket counters and at retail food and outlets as well. Cleaning crews are also out in force. And passengers are being urged to wear face masks in the airport.

Tampa International Airport (TPA) is also getting ready.

TPA rolled out a plan that includes, among other things, wider security lanes and recompose areas, and plastic shields in high traffic areas.

The airport is also blocking some seats in gate areas and only allowing ticketed passengers in the terminal.

And at Pittsburgh International Airport, robots are moving in.

Courtesy PIT Airport


Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) has joined other airports around the world in adding robotic cleaners to its maintenance crew.

The airport’s new germ-killing robot uses UV light to eliminate microbes in high-traffic areas, increasing the cleanliness of the airport.

Here’s the robotic scrubber in action.

Tampa beyond the airport

We love amenity-filled Tampa International Airport (TPA) and its day-pass program that allows non-ticketed visitors to go out to the gate with friends and family or to be there for a big hug when loved ones get off the plane.

But there’s more to Tampa than the airport.

Here’s a guide we put together for CNBC with some ideas on what to do if you’ve got just a short time to spend in Cigar City.

Miami and Orlando may be the tourist destinations that come to mind when travelers think of Florida, but Tampa is becoming a rival. It’s also a popular convention destination, so you may find yourself there on business.

If that’s the case, and you don’t have the time or the inclination to make it to the beaches that the area is known for, you aren’t out of options: The city has its own appeal beyond water activities, with Cuban cuisine, craft beer, sports and a laid-back culture that celebrates pirates and cigars.

“Business travelers are the bread and butter of Tampa Bay’s visitation,” said Santiago Corrada, president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay, adding that “they’ll find the city designed to please and easy to explore.”

Anchored by a riverfront convention center and the 2.6-mile-long Riverwalk, Tampa’s downtown district and surrounding neighborhoods offer people plenty of ways to spend free time outside a business meeting. 

Here are some ideas to help you make the most of a few extra hours in Cigar City.

Where to go

Start the day with a walk or run on the Riverwalk, a 2.6-mile-long pedestrian trail along the Hillsborough River. The bronze and marble busts you’ll pass are part of the Historical Monument Trail, which honors 30 people who played an important role in the city’s history.

Say yes to a breakfast meeting at Oxford Exchange, housed in a restored 1891 building near the downtown University of Tampa campus. This hip, club-inspired space houses a bookstore, a champagne bar, coffee and tea bars, a coworking space and a restaurant that has an art-filled main dining room, a conservatory with a retractable roof and a menu that includes everything from healthy kale scrambles to sinful Nutella babkas.

The University of Tampa, across the street, has two attractions worth a visit:

A plaque honors Babe Ruth’s longest home run (587 feet), hit on April 4, 1919 at what was then Plant Field, during a baseball game between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Giants.

The Henry B. Plant Museum is here, too, housed in the former south wing of the opulent 511-room Tampa Bay Hotel,built in the early 1880s. Now a National Historic Landmark, the museum offers a glimpse at the hotel’s original furnishings that wealthy guests were able to enjoy before the hotel closed in the early 1930s.

For more art and history, stop at the Tampa Bay History Center or the Tampa Museum of Art. Both are easily accessible from the Riverwalk. The history museum closes daily at 5 p.m., but the onsite Columbia Café, an informal outpost of the iconic Ybor City restaurant, stays open much later. The art museum stays open until 8 p.m. on Thursday evenings when admission is “pay-as-you-will.”

Cuban sandwiches, cigars and chickens

If you have a few hours in the afternoon, explore the compact and historic Ybor City neighborhood, northeast of downtown Tampa.

Get there by Uber or the free TECO Line Streetcar. Stop at the Visitor Information Center to get a map, make way for the community’s free- ranging chickens and “be sure to see the iconic Cuban Club, one of the social clubs that provided aid, comfort, recreation and health care to the Cuban population,” says Lonnie Herman, owner of Ybor City History Walking Tours. Jose Marti Park, on the only Cuban-owned land in the United States, is a must-see stop as well, says Herman, as is Tabanero Cigars, “where you can get a Cuban coffee and see cigars being hand-rolled.”

Better yet, join one of Herman’s scheduled tours. He’s got the keys and the behind-the-scenes stories for many of Ybor City’s historic buildings.

Before leaving Ybor City, stop for lunch at Columbia, the iconic Spanish and Cuban restaurant that first opened in 1905 and is well-known for its traditional take on the Cuban sandwich it calls “The Mixto.” What started as a 60-seat café is now a block-long destination with 15 dining rooms, seating for 1,700 and a flamenco dancing show every night except Sunday.

Other places to eat and drink

Tampa is well known for craft beers made by Cigar City BrewingCoppertail Brewing and others. Stop by their respective taprooms or try one of the 34 rotating beer selections on tap at the outdoor Fermented Reality Biergarten at Sparkman Wharf. In addition to dining and retail outlets in colorfully painted shipping containers, this area is home to Splitsville, an upscale restaurant and gaming center with ping pong, billiards, foosball, darts and shuffleboard.

And for a unique, luxe, old-world dining experience, be sure to make a reservation way in advance at Bern’s Steak House, across the street from the Epicurean hotel.

The eight-dining-room, 350-seat food palace has a world-famous wine cellar and an entire floor just for desserts and after-dinner drinks. 

Where to Stay

Convention and business travelers may land in a big downtown hotel, such as the 260-room Embassy Suites Tampa Downtown; the 520-room Hilton Tampa Downtown, or the 727-room Tampa Marriott Water Street, home to the Anchor and Brine bar and restaurant which has both lobby seating and terrace dining on the Riverwalk. New hotels, such as the 519-room J.W. Marriott, are being readied in advance of Super Bowl LV, which Tampa will host in 2021.

Tampa’s list of boutique hotels is growing, too. A century-old former federal courthouse now houses Le Méridien Tampa. And there are two Autograph Collection hotels: the Current, with panoramic Tampa Bay views and a rooftop bar; and the food-and-wine-themed Epicurean, in the Hyde Park district. This hotel boasts a rooftop bar, a culinary classroom and the elegant Élevage restaurant.

Be sure to visit the Epicurean’s lobby bar where guests may order a Dram n Shine, consisting of Glenfiddich 12-year Scotch, a craft ice cube and a complimentary shoeshine.

Tampa Int’l Airport expands gate pass program

TPA’s All Access program goes daily

The Saturday-only gate pass program that Tampa International Airport (TPA) launched in May is going so well that starting January 18 the airport will being offering non-ticketed visitors access to the airside terminals every day of the week.

Why go to the airport if you don’t have to?

In addition to accompanying a friend or loved one to the gate or being there when they get home, a gate pass to an airside at Tampa International Airport offers the chance to plane spot, dine in one of the airport’s top-notch restaurants or shop in the stores.

Not sure what’s there? TPA has a handy dining and shopping guide on its website.

TPA’s All Access program operates from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and issues passes to 25 people per airside each day. (Each airside – A, C, E and F – has its own security checkpoint).

Visitors may sign up online 24 hours in advance and, if approved, go to the Information Kiosk on Level 3 of the Main Terminal on the day of their visit to show a photo ID and pick up their pass. After that, visitors go through the security checkpoints at their chosen Airside, just like regular ticketed passengers.

As we’ve reported before, airport visitor pass programs are definitely now a trend. Non-ticketed passengers can apply to visit Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT), the still-shiny-new Louis Armstrong International Airport (MSY) and Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW).

No doubt other airports will begin offering gate pass programs soon too!

Detroit Metro Airport gate pass program permanent

Courtesy Detroit Metro Airport

Gate pass programs expanding

The pilot DTW Destination Pass program at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW) which allows non-ticketed passengers past the security checkpoint began in October and was supposed to end this week.

But so many non-ticketed visitors are interested in visiting DTW airport to shop, dine, check out airplanes and spend more time with friends and family starting or ending their travels that airport officials have decided to keep the program going indefinitely.

“We understand that our facility is more than just an airport—it is a place where memories are made,” said WCAA CEO Chad Newton, “One participant of the program shared with us that she was able to bring her 3-year-old nephew to the airport to greet his parents and see airplanes for the first time.”

The DTW Destination Pass program is limited to 75 visitor passes per day. Passes can be used from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Check the DTW website for details about applying for a pass.

Where else can you get an airport gate pass?

DTW is just the latest airport to welcome non-ticketed passengers past the security checkpoint.

Art at SEA airport

In December, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) brought back and made permanent the SEA Visitor Pass program, which gives non-ticketed guests access to the secure side of the airport.

Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) started the trend by introducing the myPITPass program in August 2017. That program operates Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Tampa International Airport (TPA) began offering its All Access pass in April, 2019, welcoming guests on Saturdays.

Photo La Gourmetreise, Courtesy New Orleans & Company

And Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY) began welcoming non-ticketed guests into the new terminal on December 4.

The MSY Guest Pass is offered seven days a week, with a limit of 50 visitors Monday through Friday and 100 visitors on Saturdays and Sundays.

Safe travels to all from Stuck at The Airport

Holiday elf

If, like us, you’ll be traveling on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, be sure to watch out for elves, Santas of all stripes, and lots of other travelers hoping to get where they need to go for the holiday.

If you need a few extra gifts, keep in mind too that lots of airport shops open early and close late – even on Christmas Day – and many have some pretty cool gifts all wrapped and ready to go.

To help you out, Tampa International Airport and several others have even put together holiday gift guides.

And don’t forget NORAD

On Christmas Eve you can follow along as Santa makes his way through the skies and down the chimneys via NORAD’s Santa Tracker.