The major airport serving the Tampa Bay area, located about five miles west of downtown Tampa; the terminal is at the end of a short expressway that branches off Florida state route 60 north of its interchange with Interstate 275.
The original name of the airport was Drew Field; it opened in 1928 to serve general aviation, with commercial air traffic using Peter O. Knight Airport, at the southern end of Davis Islands. During World War II, the Army took over Drew Field as an air base; with the end of the war, ownership reverted to the city of Tampa. The airlines switched to Drew Field, which, thanks to expansion during the war, was now bigger than Peter O. Knight, which was hemmed in by residential areas.
The old military buildings were used as a terminal for several years; they were located at the intersection of Tampa Bay Boulevard and West Shore Boulevard. Tampa Bay Boulevard still has a wide, landscaped median for several blocks to the east of the airport property.
Drew Field became Tampa International Airport when a new terminal opened in 1952 south of the old buildings, at Columbus Drive and West Shore.
As Tampa's population grew, and the Civil Aeronautics Board kept approving more and more flights into the airport, two additional runways were built, and finally, a completely new terminal opened April 15, 1971.
The new terminal was designed so that passengers wouldn't have to walk as far as they did at other large airports. The terminal was stacked, with parking on top of the ticketing areas and the baggage claim; the gate areas, called "airsides," radiated outward in all directions from the main terminal, called the landside building. Passengers would be whisked along by a combination of elevators, escalators, and, most importantly, elevator-type vehicles that moved horizontally, called people movers.
When the new terminal opened, there were four airside buildings (designated B, C, D, and E), three levels of short-term parking, and a long-term parking lot next to the terminal. Three more levels of short-term parking were built atop the terminal in the early 1980s. Airside F opened in 1987. The parking lot was replaced by a long-term parking garage in 1991. Airside A opened in 1995, finally completing the initial plan.
Airlines serving Tampa International are divided into "red" or "blue" according to the side of the terminal on which their ticket counters and baggage claim areas are located, announced via overhead signs on the expressway because there are separate approach roadways on the red and blue sides. Sometimes the color designation isn't what you'd expect; TWA, which painted their airplanes red and white until the early 1990s, was on the blue side. (They were eventually absorbed into American Airlines, which was also blue, conveniently enough.)
All levels of the main terminal are connected by four elevator banks. There are also escalators and stairways between some of the levels.
Level One (Baggage Claim): On this level, the red and blue baggage claim areas are completely separated because the service roadway used by the baggage carts runs down the middle. There are stairways up to Level Two that are mainly used by people who somehow ended up in the wrong place. The rental car desks are also on this level, and certain lucky people can take an escalator up and pick up their cars in a small parking lot outside Level Two; other cars are somewhere inside the long-term parking garage.
Level Two (Ticketing): There are escalators up to Level Three near the ticket counters. Through most of the 1990s, half were marked "To Airsides A/C" and the other half are marked "To Airsides D/E/F." Eastern Airlines, the sole occupant of Airside B, went out of business in the early 1990s, and apparently, all the other airlines assumed that building was cursed.
Level Three (Transfer Level): Separate escalators run down to Level One and Level Two from this level, which has been renovated several times, every time they decide the shops in the middle are looking a bit out of date. There are several restaurants here, too, including a Pizza Hut, a T.G.I. Fridays, and a seafood place, as well as a walkway to the adjacent Marriott hotel. However, the main purpose of this level is to connect to the people movers that travel out to the airside buildings, back and forth, back and forth all day. The security checkpoints are in the airsides; during the Gulf War and since September 11, 2001, an agent stands at a podium at the entrance to the people mover waiting areas, only allowing ticketed passengers past.
Airsides: Food and drink are also available in each airside. International flights (except for those from Canada) arrive at Airside F, which is where the customs and immigration facilities are located; however, American Airlines and US Airways domestic flights also use F.
Airside E had a unique design where there was a separate escalator at each gate, running up or down depending on whether passengers were boarding or alighting, but after Pan Am went out of business and Continental Airlines moved to Airside A, it became vacant and ended up being torn down in 2000, to be rebuilt. The same will eventually be done to the other three original airside buildings.
Levels Four through Nine (Parking): Valet parking is available on Level Four. A people mover from the long-term parking garage connects with Level Five. These levels are connected to the rest of the airport via the elevators. To help people find their cars, when the long-term garage opened, each bank of elevators was named after a pioneer aviator. The names used include Neil Armstrong, Igor Sikorsky, and Tony Jannus. Park near the Amelia Earhart elevators at your own risk.
The two main runways run directly north-south, with the third runway running east-west for use in crosswind situations. The best views of the Tampa Bay area are available on flights coming from up north that have to circle around and land heading north.
Because Tampa is not a hub airport, fares tend to be relatively low. (However, certain US Airways and Southwest Airlines itineraries require changing planes there.) It's usually a sedate place that moves at an unhurried pace, because the design has worked fairly well for over 30 years. The worst part of the whole experience is, after going through baggage claim, first waiting for, and then going up to the parking levels in, an elevator crammed full of people and their luggage.
The IATA code for Tampa International Airport is TPA, but many in Tampa refer to it by the "TIA" initials. bumper stickers on employees' cars used to read "LUV TIA/World's Finest Airport," until somebody who spoke Spanish asked, "Your aunt is the world's finest airport?" The stickers now read "LUV TPA" instead.
Some of this information provided by the airport's web site at http://www.tampaairport.com.