The first thing Wyatt McDaniel did when he arrived at Southwest Florida International Airport midmorning Wednesday was send his wife, Helen, into the terminal so she could stand in line while he wrestled with the couple’s luggage at the curb.
After Wyatt McDaniel, 81, managed to balance the four bags on top of one another with help from the shuttle driver, he shuffled inside and looked for his 80-year-old wife. Among the slight crowd of people at the Delta ticket counter, he spotted her third from last in a line of about nine other holiday travelers.
The lifelong Punta Gorda resident was all smiles, though. “When you travel in this day and age, you need to bring your sense of humor,” he said putting the bags down. “I’ve learned to just go with the flow.”
The McDaniels were heading to Boston to be with their children and grandchildren for Thanksgiving.
“It’s my job to carve the Butterball,” he said.
They waited in line for all of 10 minutes. With boarding passes and identification in one hand and carry-on bags in the other, the couple ambled toward the security checkpoint.
They waited less than 10 minutes before heading toward their gate.
The McDaniels are among roughly 27 million travelers that domestic carriers are expected to fly worldwide over the Thanksgiving holiday season, according to the Air Transport Association, an airline industry trade group.
The number of air travelers has experts warning of potential delays and congestion. The Lee County Port Authority, though, isn’t worrying.
Officials there said the $348 million terminal in Fort Myers can handle even the largest of crowds, the state-of-the-art runway has performed better than expected and the 12,400 parking spaces have yet to be filled beyond capacity. But if that occurs, there is an overflow parking plan in place, said Barbara-Anne Urrutia, spokeswoman for Lee County Port Authority.
With the number of passengers traveling through the airport up 7 percent compared to last year, officials have added extra staff to help alleviate wait times and have promised that the $30 million baggage system is up to the task. It handled the glut of luggage without fail over the weekend, Urrutia said.
“We expect the airport to be busiest for outbound travelers Wednesday,” airport spokeswoman Victoria Moreland said Monday. “Of course, we anticipate Saturday and Sunday to be hectic as travelers return home, but we’re prepared.”
The National Weather Service has predicted nothing short of sunshine for Florida until at least late Thursday evening. However, with rain and snow predicted for the Midwest and severe thunderstorms for other parts of the country Wednesday and early today, Moreland said flights can be delayed at many airports. Flight delays at a major hub, such as Chicago or Newark, can cause a ripple effect, slowing air traffic nationally.
By midday Wednesday, though, only a handful of delays were noted on the SWFIA arrivals/departures information screens located throughout the airport.
Michael Brown, 51, and his wife, Deborah, 50, arrived at the airport four hours early on their way to visit their daughter in Toronto. They found the Starbucks outside concourse B and passed the time reading. “It’s better to be here early than miss our plane,” Michael Brown said. “I must say, this airport is so well organized.”
About 210 planes are scheduled to fly in and out of Southwest International Airport each day this week, with the busiest times being midmorning; lunchtime, which is also known as the “noon balloon” in airport parlance; and early evening, Urrutia said.
“Since the holiday surge began Friday, wait times and delays have been minimal,” Urrutia said. “Today is busier than most, but travelers aren’t complaining and the lines are short.”
Delta, one of the top five carriers at SWFIA, has funneled seasonal employees to the airport this week to help deal directly with passengers.
“Transporting passengers safely and efficiently is the core of our business,” said Delta spokeswoman Susan Elliot.
Not a bad idea when considering that through September, more than 24 percent of national flights arrived late, according to the Department of Transportation. That’s the industry’s worst on-time performance since comparable data began being collected in 1995.
That left some travelers wondering if they might become a statistic, as well.
“I hate traveling,” said Melissa Earl, 32, traveling back to New Jersey. “Every year it seems like it just gets worse.”
Even though the weather had caused delays at several of the nation’s largest airports, and a crush of crowds was expected, it seemed business as usual at Southwest Florida International Airport on Wednesday.
Contact Andrew Schmid at email@example.com