Pittsburgh International Airport wants TSA to open Airmall to public

Tom Fontaine
| Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012, 8:13 p.m.

Allegheny County's top aviation official said Saturday he intends to lobby the Transportation Security Administration to relax post-9/11 rules that prevent people without airline tickets from going beyond airport checkpoints.

Almost 600 people without airline tickets went through checkpoints to Pittsburgh International Airport's airside terminal on Saturday as part of the airport's 20th anniversary celebration. Before 9/11, the Airmall was open to people without boarding passes, who could go there without showing ID to shop or dine.

The airport received permission from the TSA to take people beyond checkpoints for the one-time special event.

“The event was so successful, I intend to pursue this and ask if we can do it again. If not every day, then on an occasional basis,” said Allegheny County Airport Authority CEO Brad Penrod.

Currently, nonfliers can get passes from airlines to escort people with special needs, including children and people with disabilities, to and from their gate. Guests at the airport's Hyatt Regency also can get passes to go beyond checkpoints through a TSA program, now in its fifth year; about 300 passes a year are handed out, the airport said.

TSA spokesman Ann Davis said it would be “too burdensome on the agency to offer this opportunity to the general public on a routine basis,” adding visitors would need to have their names screened against government watch lists and be physically screened at checkpoints.

On Saturday, airport volunteers acted as tour guides, leading groups to the airside terminal. Like fliers, visitors' names were run against watch lists. Visitors had to remove their shoes and go through metal detectors at checkpoints.

Once in the airside terminal, visitors could go off on their own to shop or dine in the Airmall, watch planes come and go, or sit in the cockpit of a Boeing 757 on display.

“I wish it was like this all the time,” said Tim Roscoe, 56, of Cranberry, who visited with his wife Amy, 50, and their daughter Susie, 7.

“It's unfortunate that we have this $1 billion airport with nice stores and restaurants, and you can't get to them unless you have a ticket to fly,” Roscoe said.

Phil Pepe, 57, of North Fayette said he and his wife ate at the airport's T.G.I. Friday's about once every two weeks and occasionally shopped at the Airmall before 9/11.

“I did all my Christmas shopping here one year,” said Pepe, visiting with his wife Debbie, 57, and their daughter and granddaughter.

Airmall businesses wouldn't mind relaxed rules.

“We have a lot of regulars who say they would love to be able to shop here all the time,” said Cindy Schwarz, manager of Radio Road, a women's clothing boutique.

Sales revenue at the Airmall plummeted from $90 million in 2001 to $58.4 million last year, according to concessions manager Airmall USA. The restricted access has contributed, along with annual passenger traffic declining from 20 million to 8.3 million in the same span, said Airmall Vice President Jay Kruisselbrink.

“Safety and security are the most important thing at an airport, but we'd love to have the extra customers,” Kruisselbrink said.

Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.



Show commenting policy