SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) – The holidays are always a popular time to travel, but for some airports that have seen exponential growth over the last few years, those crowds can come with some challenges.

At Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, passenger growth was up 155% in 2021. This year, the numbers are up another 25% over last year. The airport has millions of dollars in improvement and expansion projects in the works including a new terminal and expanded parking, however those projects take time to complete. This holiday season, SRQ’s president and CEO Rick Piccolo tells 8 On Your Side the airport is ready to take on the influx of people.

“We are in better shape than we were last year despite the fact that we are up 1 million passengers over the last 12 months. Some of the things we did is obviously added more staff, we added more shuttle buses, we added more parking areas that we could put people in, we have added concessions and we have added personnel and security. We have addressed every issue from an operational standpoint,” said Piccolo.

The terminal, according to Piccolo is calmer this year, despite it being busier.

“We urge people to get here about two hours before the flight, but I don’t think you are going to see the lines and the kind of disruptions to some degree that we had last year. We have another years experience and we are in very good shape,” said Piccolo.

A few years back, the airport would see about 1 million passengers throughout a calendar year. Last year, that number was 3.2 million and this year it is on track to be around 3.8 to 3.9 million, according to the airport executive.

Several travelers we spoke with say they enjoy utilizing the local airport, but pointed out how much things have changed over the last few years.

“The biggest disadvantage is the parking,” said Jim Coe of North Port.

“Parking is totally different. It used to be nothing and now it is hard to find a space,” said Shirley McDaniel of Venice.

Last year, airport officials added about 1400 temporary parking spaces to help with the holiday influx. This year, they’ve added about 1000 more spaces to help with increased capacity. In addition, there is a new holiday discount parking lot open to travelers just north of the airport on U.S. 41. The price to park is $5 a day. The lot will remain open for entry until the day before Thanksgiving or until it reaches capacity.

Photo courtesy: SRQ Airport

“That new discount lot that will help change the mix some where those that are ‘longer-term parkers’ may park further away from the airport which gives us more spaces in the short term lots and in the more immediate area lots because the turnover will be quicker and that gives you a little bit more capacity just based on turnover,” said Piccolo. “I anticipate a number of our lots to fill up, but we have more than enough capacity this year,” he continued.

Travelers who don’t want to deal with parking at the airport are encouraged to get a ride or take an Uber of Lyft. Everyone is still encouraged to arrive at least two hours ahead of their departure time and keep an eye on possible delays through the airline they’re using.

“We are very confident. Our people are ready and we are ready for the people to come and hopefully have a great Thanksgiving holiday travel and hopefully the weather cooperates everywhere,” said Piccolo.