Sixteen years after 9/11, one airport in the U.S. is allowing people who aren’t traveling past security checkpoints into the main terminal.
Once again, people can say farewell to loved ones and watch them board the plane, shop, and dine at the Pittsburgh International Airport.
The airport started a new program Tuesday that allows non-travelers to apply for a one-day security pass. Since the creation of the TSA after the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, only people with a boarding pass have been allowed to go through airport security.
For some airports, like Pittsburgh, the tightened restrictions were antithetical to the airport economy. “When [the Pittsburgh International Airport] was built, it was built as a destination for the community,” Robert Kerlik, a spokesman for the airport, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “The community is used to coming to the airport and shopping and dining.”
“Ever since that went away, we’ve heard from the community ‘when can we get airside?'” Kerlik said. The airmall has stores like Hugo Boss, Armani Jeans, and Bar Symon, that that don’t have retail space elsewhere in Pittsburgh.
The airport has also suffered from declining transit. It was once the hub for US Airways before the company merged with American Airlines in 2013.
“We are a de-hubbed Midwest airport, built for 32 million passengers, that has 8 million today and that has lots of time in the middle of the day where wait times average five to 10 minutes,” Christina Cassotis, CEO of the Allegheny County Airport Authority said.
In the four days since the start of myPITpass, the temporary security pass program, more than 500 people have applied for and received access to airport beyond the security lines.
The passes are only available Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to avoid the busiest times for security checks. The security process is exactly the same for both travelers and non-travelers, and the day visitors to the airport with temporary passes are not eligible to go through expedited TSA PreCheck lines. If security lines become too long, the airport will stop issuing day passes.
The extra people “really had no effect on the line,” Kerlik said, but some groups opposed allowing non-fliers into the terminal. It amounts to “letting our guard down,” Bob Ross, the president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, said in a statement.
“Flight attendants are the last line of defense on an aircraft and as first responders, we know this move by TSA is a bad idea that needs to be reversed,” Ross said. “Aviation security relies on a layered approach where if terrorists breach a layer, second and third layers come into play to protect us. Letting our guard down in Pittsburgh or any other airport for the benefit of retailers is not the right approach to airline safety and security.”
Pittsburgh has been working closely with the TSA for years to allow for expanded access to security-controlled areas of the airport. The terminal started a holiday program three years ago that allowed non-travelers to shop at the duty-free stores in the airport during an open house of sorts.
“We showed TSA that that program worked, and that it didn’t really incur any extra cost,” Kerlik said.
But don’t expect to be able to access airport terminals at other airports any time soon. A spokesperson for the TSA told TheDCNF that there are no plans to extend the program to other airports, and emphasized that it was Pittsburg pushing to allow the program.
“Participants will receive the same level of security screening, including being vetted against the TSA’s Secure Flight program, as travelers,” the TSA said in a statement.
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