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Airport securityGetting past security without a plane ticket

Published 6 September 2017

Starting Tuesday, 5 September, Pittsburgh International Airport has become the first U.S. airport to allow non-fliers regular access into its gate-side terminal areas since security measures changed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. The airport has won approval from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for non-ticketed customers to pass through security, though they will still have to go through the same screening as those catching flights. They will also be required to show ID so they can be vetted against no-fly lists.

Starting Tuesday, 5 September, Pittsburgh International Airport has become the first U.S. airport to allow non-fliers regular access into its gate-side terminal areas since security measures changed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001.

The airport has won approval from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for non-ticketed customers to pass through security, though they will still have to go through the same screening as those catching flights. They will also be required to show ID so they can be vetted against no-fly lists.

Wichita State says that the change will allow the non-flying public to say goodbye to friends and family at the gate like they did years ago.

Dean Headley, co-author of the national Airline Quality Rating at Wichita State University, says he is glad someone is testing the concept, but isn’t convinced how practical it will be for other airports.

Some people feel it’s crazy that they can’t say goodbye to their family or friends at the gate,” said Headley. “But it’s probably better to say goodbye in the lobby or from the car.”

The change bodes well for the non-flying public in Pittsburgh, especially those who may want to shop. Anchoring the concourses at the Pittsburgh airport is Airmall, a collection of stores or restaurants.

Eisenhower National Airport in Wichita doesn’t have that much retail beyond security, so this wouldn’t necessarily be a good reason for Wichita or many other airports to go this direction, other than to let the non-ticketed public be able to welcome or say goodbye to family and friends. If you do what Pittsburgh is doing, you have to be ready for the congestion that comes with it,” said Headley.

To ensure that non-flying visitors do not bog down screening queues, airport and TSA officials say ticketed passengers will receive priority in checkpoint lines during peak periods.

Why do you want all that congestion and potential confusion in the gate area?” asks Headley. “A lot of airports have spent a lot of money since 9/11 around the principle of only having the flying public beyond the security checkpoint. If you start putting the non-flying public back into the mix, there are security issues and many other issues to consider.

Congestion has been lessened by reducing the number of people past security checkpoints. You’re going to have the non-flying public take up seats in restaurants. It’s going to complicate the process because there will be people there who don’t have a specific reason to be there. We’ll have to wait and see how that works before determining if it’s feasible in other airports.”