Airport Boardings Slowly Going Up

The American Eagle ticket counter had its typical late morning rush.

There was a similar buzz outside gate 1A. Flight 3887 just landed. A team of rampers led by Edwin McCann had an assortment of bags and cargo to load and unload. And the clock was ticking.

McCann compared the scene "to a NASCAR pit crew. Plane comes in, you've got roughly 20-25 minutes to take off 2,500 pounds of luggage, put 2,500 pounds of luggage back on."

The man in the plane's belly was Larry Brown. They call him Batman. So he nicknamed the luggage compartment the bat cave.

"It's very hot," Brown said. "But it's nice. We're in shape. A well oiled machine."

Every flight the ramp team worked lately seemed to have a few extra pieces of luggage on them.

"That's what we're talking about the last two months," said McCann. "We haven't seen a flight that wasn't sold out, other than real stormy conditions, bad weather."

At first glance, airport numbers since Katrina don't support McCann's assertion. Passenger counts in 2006 are down about 15 percent. But take a closer look at the post hurricane stats.

Two airlines are reporting small increases in Gulfport bookings. And the two that are down are adding new flights to their schedules.

Bruce Frallic is the airport's director.

"We should easily be back to the number of passengers we had pre-Katrina when we get to the end of August," he said.

Which means Batman and his team of airport super heroes better be ready for quite a workout on the ramp outside gate 1A.

One of the reasons Bruce Frallic is optimistic about passenger count is because of Air Tran. In addition to restarting its Tampa service, it's about to offer non-stop flights from Gulfport to Fort Lauderdale. That service resumes August 29.