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"Allowing non-flyers to shop at the airport? Flight attendants unionblasts plan"


 

Monday, September 4, 2017

 

Allowing non-flyers to shop at the airport? Flight attendants union blasts plan

By Mark Belko

The Pittsburgh (PA) Post-Gazette

 

 

 

The union representing American Airlines flight attendants is worried that shopping will trump security when Pittsburgh International Airport opens its boarding terminal to non-flyers next week.

 

Bob Ross, national president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, described the pilot program set to start Tuesday as a “bad idea that needs to be reversed.”

 

But Pittsburgh airport officials defended their plan, calling Mr. Ross’s objections unfounded and insisting that every measure will be taken to maintain security.

 

The union chief is calling on the U.S. Transportation Security Administration to halt the program. He also has reached out to the U.S. secretary of transportation and the Department of Homeland Security to express his concerns.

 

“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,” Mr. Ross said in a statement.

 

Pittsburgh International will be the first airport in the country to launch the program. Dubbed “myPITpass,” it will allow people without tickets to travel to the airside building to see off or greet loved ones or friends or to shop the Airmall, the mall-like collection of retailers and restaurants.

 

“It’s a bad idea to fix a problem they may have in Pittsburgh,” Mr. Ross said in an interview. “If it were to expand to other airports, we’re opening up a Pandora’s box and overburdening security staffs.”

 

Christina Cassotis, CEO of the Allegheny County Airport Authority, which operates Pittsburgh International, took issue with that position, calling it “misinformed” and “inaccurate.”

 

She stressed that all non-flyers, before getting a pass good for one day to go to airside, will be checked against the same no-fly list as airline passengers. They also will have to pass through the same security checkpoint and will be subject to the same searches and restrictions as ticketed travelers.

 

“Security is the first priority all the time, every day. Period. End of sentence,” Ms. Cassotis said.

 

She added that officials chose to operate the program from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays because those are non-peak times for travel at Pittsburgh International. The airport will monitor the lines and will give ticketed passengers priority if they become too busy.

 

If the weekday program is successful, the Pittsburgh airport hopes to expand it, perhaps into the weekends.

 

“This is like adding additional flights. These are people going through the exact same protocols [as passengers],” Ms. Cassotis said. “He’s basing [his statement] on misinformation. I’m really disappointed anyone would release a statement based on misinformation.”

 

TSA spokesman Mike England also said non-flyers will receive the same level of security screening as ticketed travelers.

 

The Transportation Security Administration has the staff to handle more people at the checkpoint and did not have to hire any new prople to accommodate the program, he said. The agency doesn’t anticipate any impact on checkpoint wait times.

 

Still, Mr. Ross viewed the initiative as a “terrible precedent” that could spread to busier airports that won’t have the resources to handle an influx of non-flyers at the security checkpoint. He worried that could further clog those checkpoints, causing flight delays and resulting in missed flights, particularly during the busy holiday season.

 

Mr. England said there no plans to expand the program to other airports at this time.

 

Pittsburgh International has been campaigning for years to allow non-flyers to travel to the airside building to shop or eat or to accompany or await loved ones. Access for non-flyers, except in rare cases, has been prohibited since the Sept. 11. 2001, terrorist attacks.

 

With the approval of the TSA, the airport has been offering limited one-day holiday shopping visits to airside for non-flyers since 2014. There have been no issues involving security or congestion with those, Ms. Cassotis said.

 

Beyond concerns about security and congestion, Mr. Ross said he was “stunned” by the timing of the Sept. 5 start.

 

“Days prior to the anniversary of 9/11 is when we should be reminding the public of the need to remain vigilant — not sending the message that the airport is no different than their local mall,” he said.

 

“That’s so distasteful I’m not commenting on it,” Ms. Cassotis retorted.

 

Mr. Ross’s union represents more than 26,000 American Airlines flight attendants. It’s the nation’s largest flight attendants’ union. Some attendants will be at the airport Tuesday to discuss the union’s stance.

 

American, which includes the former US Airways, is one of the airport’s top carriers, with 45 flights a day from Pittsburgh, the most of any airline.

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