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Pittsburgh International Airport Allows Public Beyond Security Checkpoint

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Today, for the first time in 16 years, guests at Pittsburgh International Airport who are not there to travel could walk their loved ones all the way to the gate. Family members can also go to gates to wait for passengers to arrive. It's the first major airport in the country to do this. Katie Blackley of member station WESA reports.

KATIE BLACKLEY, BYLINE: Soon after 9/11, TSA stopped letting non-flyers pass through their airport security. But that's now changed at the Pittsburgh airport. To get the airside pass, you have to show a valid ID at a separate ticketing counter and pass through TSA security like any flying passenger. Sally Hernandez was departing Pittsburgh for Texas this morning. She and her husband, Chris Martinez, were among those taking advantage of the change.

SALLY HERNANDEZ: We were expecting a no when we asked if he could come back to the gate with us. We were expecting them to say no.

CHRIS MARTINEZ: It's awesome. But at the same time, I mean, I understand why they're, you know, pretty cautionary about it.

BLACKLEY: Non-ticketed passengers who use the program can bring only one personal item with them, like a purse or a backpack. IDs are run through a government security database and checked against no-fly lists. Pamela Mancini was with her 3-year-old son, Vincent. She says she and her husband found out about the program and decided to try it when he flew out from the airport today.

PAMELA MANCINI: So we got to watch his airplane take off, and then we got to hit the kids zone. And we've been shopping a little bit, and we're going to get something to eat now.

BLACKLEY: The Association of Professional Flight Attendants opposes the plan, though. It fears higher risk of security breaches. Airport officials say the change is due in part to the large number of stores stuck behind TSA checkpoints. The retail center at the airport is huge with more than 50 businesses. For now, the airside pass is only available Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Airport officials hope to keep the security lines moving and promise that ticketed passengers will move to the head of the line. For NPR News, I'm Katie Blackley in Pittsburgh. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.