CLEARWATER — PIE Day at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport was planned to end precisely at 3.14159 p.m. Friday, after travelers at the facility that aviators know as PIE enjoyed surprise desserts airport staff and volunteers handed out.
The event was timed to correspond with the annual March 14 international Pi Day math celebration, commemorating the number 3.14 that’s been calculated out to a trillion more digits to reflect the ratio of the circumference to the diameter for a circle.
But St.Pete-Clearwater International’s party was more popular than anticipated.
Despite an additional run to a nearby Publix for more pies, the airport staff had to end the celebration early, handing out the last of snack-sized boxes with strawberry, key lime, mango key lime or apple pie by 2:30 p.m.
“We got more than 1,000 pieces of pie,” public relations director Michele Routh said. “We had to wrap it up early with the last piece we could muster up.”
The Pinellas airport’s PIE Day was part of an airport branding campaign to capitalize on the quirky International Air Transport Association code for which the “P” and the “I” stand for Pinellas International. The “E” has no meaning, it just fills the gap in the three-letter IATA designator.
Enhanced branding and marketing underlies strong passenger growth at the facility that operates in the shadow of Tampa International Airport, which serves more passengers in a month than PIE does in a year.
But last year, PIE served a little more than 1 million passengers, the highest mark since 2004 when 1.3 million used the former World War II fighter plane training base. The airport today also hosts the nation’s busiest U.S. Coast Guard Air Station and U.S. Army Reserve helicopter units.
PIE provides a niche for low-cost carriers serving visitors and a growing number of Tampa Bay region residents, with mainstay Allegiant Air planning to inaugurate the latest of 32 non-stop destinations — Cincinnati — in May. Vision Airlines provides flights to Gulfport-Biloxi, Miss., and Sunwing serves Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Toronto.
Allegiant has been flying two, 177-passenger Airbus A320s to various destinations from the Pinellas airport this year, in addition to 166-seat McDonnell-Douglas MD-80s, airport director Noah Lagos said. He expects Allegiant to add another new Airbus to Pinellas flights this year.
“This is a really good pie, check out the layers,” said Allegiant passenger and first-time visitor Amanda Yucha of Mount Carmel, Pa., who enjoyed one of the key lime concoctions after arriving on a flight from Allentown, Pa.. “And the airport is really nice, too.”
“Will we do it again next year?” Routh asked. “I’d say there’s a 3.14159 (to 1) chance of that.”