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Published: Thursday, 1/29/2004

2nd Orlando airport surprises fliers

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

When Terrie Stong flew to Orlando for a convention last week, she jumped for one of TransMeridian Airlines bargain fares from Toledo Express Airport.

But when she got to Florida, she discovered she was at one airport, while her rental car and conventioneers she was meeting were at another.

That s because TransMeridian flies to Orlando Sanford International Airport, 18 miles northeast of downtown and 33 highway miles north of Orlando International Airport, where all traditional airlines serving Orlando go.

Mrs. Stong, the chief executive of Good Bears of the World, a locally based charity, bought her plane ticket directly from TransMeridian, while she had AAA Northwest Ohio make her rental car reservation. But she didn t blame the auto club for booking the car at the wrong airport.

“Had I done it myself, I probably would have booked my car out of Orlando International,” she said yesterday. “I didn t know there were two airports.”

Apparently, she s not alone. Local travel agents said yesterday several of their clients have run afoul of the airport confusion, usually because those customers booked their own rental cars.

TransMeridian s ads in The Blade include the notation “Sanford” under the Orlando heading, but Gina Garwood, owner of Atlas World Travel in Sylvania Township, speculated that many travelers either don t notice that or assume Sanford is the name of Orlando s main airport.

“Most people don t pay attention to the name of an airport,” Ms. Garwood said. “They just hear Orlando, and they assume they re going to Orlando.”

Ms. Garwood and Jani Miller, president of Central Travel in Toledo, both said travel agents are taking extra time to make sure their Orlando customers know to which airport they are flying.

Raymond Wise, director of the Sanford Airport Authority, likened the situation to the multiple airports in Washington and New York City, but he conceded that Orlando Sanford is a relatively new player in the commercial airport game. Nine years ago, the airport s name was Central Florida Regional, but it was switched to Orlando Sanford - and later the word “International” was added - to improve its marketing.

“We ve really exploded in the last few years. We have not had commercial service that long,” Mr. Wise said.

Through December, TransMeridian had flown 14,618 people from Toledo to Orlando after starting service on Aug. 28, including 3,888 last month. Flights depart Friday through Monday mornings, with additional days available during peak travel periods.

Other airlines using Orlando Sanford include Vacation Express, Southeast, and a new Pan American, which bought its name several years ago from the corporate estate of the original Pan Am.

Carolyn Fennell, a spokesman at Orlando International, said that since September - the first full month of TransMeridian s flights from both Toledo and Rockford, Ill. - the larger airport has averaged 100 comments, questions, or complaints per month from travelers or greeters who ended up at the “wrong” airport.

“It s not unusual to have two airports in one city,” Ms. Fennell said, also citing the examples of Washington and New York City. But many travelers to Florida haven t learned that Orlando has become one of those two-airport cities, she agreed.

Most rental car companies have desks at Sanford as well as Orlando International. Mrs. Stong said Hertz simply changed the location of her reservation to Sanford, then she picked up the other conventioneers at Orlando International. Other travelers who have arranged for Florida friends or relatives to pick them up at the airport have not had it quite so easy.

Airport officials and travel agents alike said it is all a matter of awareness, and that while responsibility for knowing one s airport ultimately falls to the traveler, the airlines, rental-car companies, and others in the industry do well when they help keep their customers satisfied.



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