Earlier this year, we reported on the Valentine's Day "present" from the Tampa International Airport to the traveling public; a consolidated rental car center 1.5 miles from the terminal, paid for by rental car users (of course). The facility was deemed necessary as the airport planned for growth and reduced terminal traffic but also inconvenienced many of the airport's frequent travelers; attentive individuals knew that half of the rental car companies were previously directly across from baggage claim while the other half were off-airport and required shuttle buses. Tampa leveled the playing field by requiring all renters to take the SkyConnect to the new, consolidated facility. Yet for individuals returning a rental car -- especially those with too much luggage -- Tampa did incorporate one nice feature into the SkyConnect design. Instead of departing customers wrangling checked bags onto the train and then to the airline's ticketing counters, passengers on select airlines can print boarding passes and check bags in the rental car center, rather than hauling them onto the SkyConnect train and through the terminal to the airlines' ticketing counters. .
SkyConnect is critical to the success of the remote rental car center (and decreasing bus traffic).
Tampa made the conscious decision to push the concept of curbside skycaps out to the rental car center; after all, if the intent is to decrease traffic near the terminal, curbside skycaps are not the answer. The company providing the service on behalf of the airport may be familiar to those in the travel industry -- Bags. Not only does Bags provide traditional airport skycaps but also hotel valets, services to cruise lines, and even baggage delivery (for individual customers through Bags VIP and for the airlines in the case of lost/delayed luggage).
The check-in and baggage check services are currently only available to customers of American, Delta, and Southwest -- other airlines (including Alaska, Frontier, JetBlue, and Spirit) are expected to begin participating soon. The service can't help time-compressed travelers; in order to use the remote service for boarding passes and checked luggage, a traveler has to arrive at least 90 minutes before departure. The service has proven so popular, Bags has needed to scramble to hire more staff; the rental car center processed 75,000 bags in the first 2.5 months of the service, with the vast majority (almost 55,000) being from customers of Southwest Airlines (which heavily promotes their Bags Fly Free initiative). Of course, customers of airlines who might incur a fee for baggage (or even printing a boarding pass, as in Spirit's case) would still have to pay up.
We're admittedly not the target audience for this offer; if we're flying (especially Southwest, with Open Seating), we've already long since checked in and have mobile boarding passes. We're also unlikely to have anything other than a rollaboard piece of luggage, but we clearly appreciate what Tampa Airport has attempted to do here -- after all, most airports charge excessive per day fees for the use of the rental car center ($5.95 per day, in the case of Tampa) without providing any additional value to consumers.
However, there are some really great use cases for this service. Those traveling heavy due to Southwest's Bags Fly Free (subject to restrictions) offer would clearly make out better checking in luggage at the rental car center rather than dealing with carting luggage onto the SkyConnect and then onward to the Southwest check-in counter. And the AutoSlash team always thinks about saving money on rental cars; those parents who took advantage of airline fee waivers on child safety seats -- and thus avoided the $13-$15 per day fee assessed by rental car companies -- could check the seat early if there were no plans to use it on the aircraft.
Note that the luggage handling service has one drawback; it's only for departing passengers. Arriving passengers with checked luggage still need to go to baggage claim, retrieve their bags, and manage to maneuver the SkyConnect service (unless using the paid Bags VIP service for delivery to one's home or hotel). However, we do have to give some credit to the airport for making life easier for some renters returning rental cars, even though that step was necessitated by the airport making rental cars less convenient to start ...