ECP Airport leaders plan projects to battle backups

Published: Sep. 28, 2022 at 8:04 PM CDT
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PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - This is usually one of the quieter times of the year in Panama City Beach. But even though it’s technically off-season, it really doesn’t feel like it. Roads aren’t the only things getting backed up with traffic lately. Many traveling through Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport could tell you consistent crowds are causing backups.

It’s hard to say anyone expected this much area growth when ECP Airport opened up in 2010. In the first year, officials said they had 312,000 passengers total. Last year, they ended with almost 1.6 million passengers.

Most locals know if you want to avoid the crowds, just don’t fly on turnover day. But as more hotels go up, stays are less consistent and air travel is more spread out.

“When we were just a condo market, it was just a Saturday turnover day. So everybody out of the condo Saturday and back in,” Parker McClellan, Executive Director of Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport, said. “Now we see that we’re busy now Thursday afternoon through Monday, with Tuesday and Wednesday kind of being slower times.”

Even on a Wednesday morning, passengers were stuck in a security line that stretched all the way to the ticket counters. And finding parking can regularly feel like a mission. That’s why airport leaders are working on an entire list of expansion projects.

“A plan to go in and expand the concourse. We’ve got another plan for more ramps and there’s another plan in the early phases for a terminal expansion to the north, which will relocate baggage claim, move the checkpoint to where baggage claim is today. We’ll have five additional lanes to increase the efficiency and the speed as you go through the checkpoint,” McClellan said.

They’re also looking to add upwards of 300 parking spaces across the long-term lot, employee lot, cellphone lot, and overflow lot.

But with most of those plans still on paper, passengers should plan to arrive a little early.

For now, airport officials are recommending those who are eligible to, go ahead and sign up for TSA pre-check. Looking towards the future, they said they’re considering adding Clear to the security checkpoint, which is similar to TSA pre-check, helping you quickly and securely get through security.

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