TAMPA, Fla. — It’s the busiest travel day of the season and airport workers are putting in overtime to make sure people can get home for the holidays.
“There will be a bunch of wheelchairs, feels like I’m working by myself sometimes, and I’m like doubling back, tripling back,” said Tampa airport contractor Anthony Sanders.
Tampa International Airport (TPA) expects 65-75,000 passengers to pass through each day during this holiday season, breaking pre-pandemic travel records. That’s just thousands of the 110 million people AAA predicts will travel across the U.S.
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In fact, the airport is seeing passenger numbers 8-9% higher than the average of other airports across the country.
But when you look around, you see a lot of staff like Sanders working during the holidays.
Airlines took a hit during the pandemic and as people began traveling again, airports in general still haven’t been able to fully re-staff.
Sanders is a Tampa resident who is contracted by a company outside of TPA to assist elderly and handicapped passengers in wheelchairs. He was laid off for three months during the pandemic and with the cost of living in Tampa, he was facing homelessness, living out of hotels.
Now that he’s been back to work, he’s working overtime for the holidays — six days a week, eight or more hours a day and his pay is $6.98 an hour, so he relies on tips.
The minimum wage in Florida is $10 an hour, so similar to a restaurant employee, tips get him to the legal minimum wage.
“When I got rehired I mean, it was still like, you know, it wasn’t as busy as it is now. It was still like I wouldn’t you know, ‘cause I rely on my tip money and I wasn’t really — I was probably making maybe $30 a day in tips, and then, you know, we have to report our tips,” Sanders explained. “We weren’t making any money. I slept in hotels. It was very hard, very hard.”
Sanders will be working Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Years, and his birthday on January 2.
“We’re very short, we’re very understaffed, and we, you know, we do our best. I do my best. Every time I’m here, I do my best to assist people, I go beyond and above for the people here and they do, they do you know, they do appreciate you back,” Sanders said.
He is also part of SEIU 32BJ, a union advocating for airport workers to get higher wages and safer working conditions.
If you’re one of the millions of people flying this holiday season, remember two things: get there early and workers like Sanders, who rely on tips.