BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. -

Handicapped travelers will face higher costs at the Tri-Cities Airport this spring.
The airport has announced they will no longer allow handicapped customers to park for free, starting April 1st.

"There just has been a real increased usage," said Melissa Thomas, the airport spokesperson.

She told us that's why they'll start charging handicapped travelers normal parking fees. It costs $8 per day to park in long-term parking and $12 per day to park in short term parking.

"I really don't think that's fair," said Cecil Carter, of Unicoi. "You've got the elderly, children in wheelchairs, and handicap personnel. I think they've been through enough."

Carter is a disabled veteran who works for the VA.    

"I just can't think of more that they can do than to force them or their families to have to pay for handicap parking, when I personally think they've earned that," he said

Thomas told us it's a matter of dollars and cents.

"We've held off as long as we could," said Thomas. "Other airports in the state, they did away with those complimentary parking programs back in 2008. We've just kind of kept on as long as we could."

She said they need the $98,000 those parking spaces would bring the facility. We learned that about a third of the airport's operating funds come from parking fees. Thomas told us the rest is made up by rent payments from the airlines, restaurants and stores.

The operating costs are used to “keep the runways clear and the facilities in good shape," Thomas told us.

Traveler Carl Close said that's why he supports the change.

“The reality is, it costs money to maintain these parking lots," he said.

Close told us there should be an exception for veterans like Cecil Carter.

“Vets have put forth a major effort to protect our country,” he said. “Some consideration should be given to vets, no question about it."

The airport told us they hope charging these fees will also keep people from parking in the handicap spots for months at a time, something they say has been a problem.