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Article by: Frances McMorris

Demand for Tampa International Airport’s new remote baggage check-in at the consolidated rental car center, among the first in the country, has almost tripled expectations.

The remote check-in lets travelers return rental cars at the center and walk over to a kiosk to print boarding passes and luggage tags. After placing the tags on the bags, travelers hand them to personnel at the remote bag check post who check to see it the luggage is overweight or oversized and a fee has to be paid. After that, the bag-free travelers get on the SkyConnect train to the main terminal for their gates.

“We’re among the first — if not the first — in the country to have this type of multi-airline remote bag check/boarding pass area,” said TIA spokesperson Danny Valentine. The baggage system, open since Valentine’s Day, has created approximately 40 permanent jobs. It currently services passengers on Southwest Airlines Co. (NYSE: LUV), the airport’s largest carrier; Delta Airlines Inc. (NYSE: DAL); and American Airlines Group Inc.  is expected to be added in the next few weeks, Valentine said.

“It’s going gangbuster and drawing attention from around the country,” said D’Anne Mica, a spokeswoman for Orlando-based Bags Inc., which built the system for TIA. “We have similar systems in Denver and Phoenix but not the way this one is working at the rental car center.”

The kiosks at TIA are “unique” in that they can print both bag tags and boarding passes, making it a one-stop service for hurried passengers, Mica explained.

Demand has been “much higher than we expected,” Mica said. The RFP for the project called for it to service 700 passengers a day but the system now sees 1,100 passengers on a weekday and about 2,500 on Saturdays, Mica said.

In the first few days of operation, the company had to pull employees from other parts of the state to keep up with TIA’s needs, Mica said. There are currently 60 employees for the remote baggage check program now and the company is looking to hire another 30 people.

The service “takes off the burden on families,” Mica said. For the business traveler, it means less waiting on lines to check in bags.

Bags operates in more than 250 U.S cities, completes more than 2 million valet transactions each year, and handles more than 5 million checked bags annually, according to its website. The company services airports, hotels and other locations such as Disney World.

TIA’s remote bag check-in is designed to align with the 1.5-mile SkyConnect train system, which links the main terminal to the Economy Garage and the 2.6-million square foot rental car center. The ride takes less than five minutes with trains arriving at each station approximately every two minutes. SkyConnect and the rental car center, which houses 16 car companies, alleviates traffic congestion by taking 2.7-million vehicles off the roads around the airport each year.