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Tue, Apr 20, 2004

Pittsburgh International Could Be The First

Security Rules May Be Relaxed

By ANN Editor Pete Combs

It's a worst moment and it happens every time I see my son off at the airport for his trip across country, back to his mother's house. I get the 13-year old boy to the security checkpoint and wave goodbye. Tears in his eyes, he waves goodbye and then goes into the terminal concourse -- a place I generally can't go since the 9/11 attacks. My worst fear is that he'll do what his older step-siblings did on their last flight to see us. They wandered confused around the concourse until their flight departed, hopelessly lost and afraid to ask someone for directions.

In short, I'd feel a helluva lot better if I could take him to the gate myself. Getting permission to do so is a hit-or-miss proposition at the ticket counter. So I waive goodbye and I wait until the flight is gone, making sure no one is frantically paging me on the airport intercom.

Okay, that's my angst. But for parents who face similar missions in Pittsburgh (PA), it's an angst that may soon be gone.

Pittsburgh International could well become the first major airport where federal security officials drop the rule that prohibits non-flyers from the gate concourses. And if Pittsburgh does it right, the airport could serve as a model for the rest of the country.

"This is new, this is exciting, because we're basically rewriting the security directives in order to allow non-ticketed passengers to go through security," said JoAnn Jenny, spokeswoman for the Allegheny County Airport Authority, which runs the airport.

Airport leaders and Pennsylvania's Congressional delegation have pushed hard to get the Department of Homeland Security and the FAA to allow the change for two reasons: it's more economical and it's easier on passengers.

Pittsburgh is an ideal candidate for the experiment. There, the security is centralized. Just on the other side of security is a full-scale shopping mall where sales have fallen dramatically since security was dramatically stepped up after 9/11.

If approved, the idea would be for non-flyers to go through security just like ticketed passengers. They'd have to pass the metal detectors and the shoe-searches. But passengers don't seem to mind.

And, believe it or not, the TSA seems to agree, at least, in principle.

"There's a customer service benefit to be had here, but at the end of the day, the security of the flying public at the Pittsburgh airport is going to come before anything else," said the TSA's Northeast regional spokeswoman, Ann Davis. "And I think passengers appreciate that."

I know I would.

FMI: www.pitairport.com

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