EDITORIAL: Opening terminal at Pittsburgh airport makes sense

September 11, 2017
Jim McNutt/Observer-Reporter Exterior of the Observer-Reporter building in Washington.

Monday was the 16th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, an occasion marked by solemn ceremonies and sorrowful recollections of what happened that day.

Since we’re now just four years from two decades having passed since 9/11, what the world was like before then is becoming just a little bit hazier to recall.

We were once able to stroll into amusement parks and sports arenas without being wanded or having our bags checked.

And airport security was, of course, less stringent than it is now.

Of course, the freewheeling days of the 1960s and early 1970s, when you could buy tickets at the gate just before take-off and there were no metal detectors to be found, were long in the past by the start of the 2000s.

But non-passengers could freely wander through most airports after passing through security, or greet fliers before or after their flights.

This practice came to an end as a result of 9/11, much to the detriment of Pittsburgh International Airport and its counterparts around the country. The airport, which opened in 1992, had won plaudits from visitors for its ambience and shopping opportunities.

But for the last 16 years, with a few stray exceptions, only passengers, flight personnel and airport employees have been able to partake of it.

That changed last week, though, when the airport started letting non-passengers into its airside building from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays.

Using a pass and needing to go through the same security regimen as passengers, visitors will be able to welcome or send off friends or loved ones, and visit shops selling Hugo Boss or Brooks Brothers suits, Armani jeans and other upscale items.

Those hours were chosen because they fall outside the morning and evening rush periods. Officials also noted passengers would be the first priority if there are backlogs at security checkpoints.

Pittsburgh International Airport is the first airport in the country to take this step, and its time has come. If visitors who do not have flight tickets are subject to the same security measures as fliers, and security personnel are not overburdened, then why not let them in the airside building?

Of course, we must remain vigilant, but we should also be sensible and not succumb to worries that could well be groundless.

However, that hasn’t stopped the union representing flight attendants for American Airlines from hyperventilating.

Bob Ross, the union’s president, lambasted the plan, characterizing it as a “bad idea that needs to be reversed,” and arguing it would jeopardize safety “for the benefit of retailers.”

Christina Cassotis, CEO of Allegheny County Airport Authority, responded reasonably enough that allowing some non-fliers into the boarding terminal would merely be the equivalent of extra flights being added and “security is the first priority all the time, every day. Period. End of sentence.”

Airports serve an obvious utilitarian function, but they also act as gateways to a city.

Letting nonfliers be present during part of the day would show the Pittsburgh region is a welcoming and lively place, and its people are not hunkered down in fear.

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