You can get almost anywhere in the world starting from the Sarasota–Bradenton International Airport. Most of you have probably landed at our airport a time or two. I love this airport, especially knowing how crazy it can be getting to the Tampa airport or any other large airport around the country. The airport here is so very nice and easy and modern. My wife Liz and I remember when it was very different…but still very nice.
When we were kids flying back from somewhere into Sarasota, the plane landed and off-loaded passengers who were always well-dressed…our dads like the other men, were in suits and ties and the ladies were in dresses, heals and hats, looking very stylish. These days it seems most people practically travel in their PJ’s! When the door to the plane opened back then, we did not walk through a ‘cattle shoot' directly into the building…we walked down the steps, across the tarmac and into a simple building. Those who were meeting in-coming passengers were waiting right there behind a fence lining the tarmac. The Sarasota-Bradenton Airport now is quite different and has a rich history.
In January 1946 our airport was the Sarasota Army Air Field and was deactivated and opened to civilian use as the Sarasota-Bradenton Airport. Liz’s dad was in the Army back then and told us stories about coming down to Sarasota from MacDill in Tampa during his time in the service and ‘borrowing furniture’ that remained from the old Quonset huts at the airport after the base closed! National Airlines, which had provided sporadic service to the old municipal airport in the late 1930s and resumed service next to the military base in 1944, moved into a building vacated by the Air Corps.
Transformation to civilian status became more visible with the construction of a new control tower in 1957, a terminal in 1959, and the removal of old military buildings. Although commercial airline service began as early as 1940 at Sarasota Bradenton Airport, it was not until 1965 that jet service was first provided to the area by National Airlines. Eastern Airlines began commercial service in 1961.
My fondest memory of the old airport was also a ‘teaching moment’ in my life. I was a paperboy when I was a teenager. I lived near the Ringling Museum and one of the wealthy residents on my paper route who lived near next door to the Ca d'Zan (The Ringling mansion), was a pilot and owned a small airplane. One day he invited me to join him on an early morning flight around Sarasota and offered to teach me to fly if I was interested. We set it up…and I forgot all about it. By the time I remembered, it was too late and he never asked me again. To this day, I have never been late for anything!
Sadly, there is another memory we will never forget. Air Force One delivered President George W. Bush to our airport on September 10, 2001 for a 9/11 visit to the Emma E. Booker Elementary School. He was listening to the children read when terrorists struck the World Trade Center. He flew out that day, some say Air Force One took off from the taxiway, not even waiting to get on the tarmac. No, we will never forget.
Today, we have a world class international airport – a new tower was just dedicated recently and our airport remains a pleasure to travel to and from our beautiful city. Many thousands of people have traveled here to paradise for the first time…and they decide they want to stay and live in my beautiful hometown. I don’t blame them! So if you have friends or family who are thinking of buying a home in Sarasota, please give them my name and together we will find their dream home! I will even pick them up from the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport – and I will be ON TIME!