Lax security in the employee parking lot and shuttle at Tampa International Airport is a potential danger to the airport, passengers and crew, say dozens of airline employees who want the problems fixed.
The employee parking lot in a remote area north of the main terminal is not fully enclosed by a security fence, allowing anyone to walk from the street into the sprawling lot with 2,400 spaces, airport officials acknowledge.
Drivers of the airport-operated shuttle buses generally board passengers without asking them to show identification badges, airline employees said in recent interviews.
It’s not uncommon for employees to take relatives or others who do not have airport credentials to the main terminal aboard the shuttle bus, a JetBlue Airways employee said.
“Any whack job could get on the employee bus in Tampa,” said Florence Andrea Roberts, a Delta flight attendant who flies out of both Tampa and Orlando international airports. “Someone could pull out a gun and run rampant on the ramp.”
Roberts was one of more than three dozen employees from Southwest, American, JetBlue and Delta, including flight crews, ticket-counter agents and ramp workers, who met with The Tribune and told similar stories that security at the airport parking lot and buses was not as good as they would like.
Airline employees, including some who protested parking fees the airport recently increased, pointed out that parking security at Tampa International is not as strict as they have observed at other airports, such as Orlando and Miami.
Tampa International officials, alerted to the issues that employees raised in more than two dozen interviews in recent weeks with The Tribune, said Tuesday that they will pursue improvements.
“It’s important that the people who work at the airport and use our employee buses feel safe,” Janet Zink, assistant vice president of media and government relations, wrote in an email.
“We will explore the possibility of checking badges before employees get on the buses so that only people who have security clearance will have access to the shuttles,” she said.
That will not require any increase in parking rates beyond those recently imposed, Zink added.
Perimeter and airfield security fall under an airport’s jurisdiction and are delineated in each airport’s Airport Security Plan, said Sari Koshetz, spokeswoman for the federal Transportation Security Administration in Miami.
The TSA requires every commercial airport to have procedures that govern entry into the secured area of an airport and to have incident prevention and response mechanisms that include redundancies for safety and security, she said.
Tampa International and TSA officials said the TSA conducts regular security tests and the airport relies on multiple security features, including some they do not make public.
“Discussing the details of the security plan and/or mechanisms in place would reveal sensitive security information,” Koshetz said. “However, TSA continues to work closely with the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority and the Tampa airport police department to make sure the airport is safe and secure for the traveling public.”
Zink said: “Our security program has been approved by the TSA. Cameras allow us to monitor the buses and we can turn (the buses) off remotely and respond promptly if they stray off path or anything unusual happens.
“There’s a person on duty at the employee parking lot during business hours, and security cameras allow us to monitor the lots from our operations center 24 hours a day. We don’t generally get any reports of crime there.”
Airport officials previously said one issue in play is the length of time it would take for all employees to be screened as they board the shuttle bus, but now they will determine whether that can be handled more effectively.
An American Airlines employee said the most congested time is during shift changes for TSA employees who ride the buses.
John Tiliacos, Tampa International vice president of operations and customer service, said: “We monitor the buses as they make their way from nonsecure to secure areas.
“After the employees get on the bus, the driver has to access a sterile area by swiping a badge to proceed through a gate” to cross the runway, he said.
Once off the bus, employees who work in secure areas face various identification checks before they gain access to their workstations.
The parking-lot security issues were brought to light primarily by Southwest employees reacting to the aviation authority’s increase of monthly employee parking fees in October from $12 to $18. Another increase is scheduled on Oct. 1, to $25.
“We were very sensitive to the impact increasing the parking rates would have on tenant employees,” Zink said. “Even with the increase to $25 a month, our parking rates for airline employees remain lower than those in Orlando and Miami and other similar-sized airports in the country.”
But Southwest employees at Tampa International last autumn posted a petition in their work area that said “Caution High Fees Ahead,” and nearly 100 employees signed it.
Antoine Williams, a Southwest ramp supervisor who formerly parked in the employee lot but now parks in an airside lot, expressed dissatisfaction with the fee increase from $20 to $27 a month on Oct. 1 and to $35 a month in October 2014 for where he’s parking.
“There are some cameras for the terminal where I park, but I do agree security at the employee lot is terrible,” Williams said.
Williams compared the airport’s parking security unfavorably to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, where employees use the airport’s parking garage, and Newark Liberty International Airport, where employee costs are high but security “tight.”
Roberts, the Delta flight attendant, said security police at Orlando International check identification cards at the employee parking lot, and she frequently sees roving security details.
An Orlando airport spokeswoman wrote in an email that the lot is secured with perimeter barriers, a requirement by security staff that employees show IDs, and monitoring.
Roberts said: “The point is, when I am in the Orlando parking lot at night, I feel safe. If I screamed for help, I’m sure I would be heard. I don’t have that feeling when I fly from Tampa.”
Angel Rodriguez, a Southwest ramp agent who’s worked at Tampa International for 13 years, said: “Anybody can get on the bus. Once they get past (the runway checkpoint), someone could take over the bus.”
Rick Marcus, a Southwest ramp agent at Tampa International, said employees have noticed the airport is spending a lot on construction projects and have the feeling the airport wants to make up for shortfalls.
“We are paying, but I don’t see any improvements with security,” Marcus said. “Any person can walk in off the street and get on the employees bus with no ID, no questions. The situation is an accident waiting to happen.”