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First Time Since 9/11, Non-Flyers Have Access To Pittsburgh Airport Airmall

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IMPERIAL, Pa. (KDKA) -- Walking through the Airmall at Pittsburgh International Airport, you would never know there are jets taxiing just outside the walls.

The patrons all pulling suitcases is a give away, but the new and improved mall has been, up until now, the land for only ticketed passengers.

Tony Purcell remembers the days before the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.

"When the airport first opened, we used to come Christmas shopping out here because you have specialty shops," he said.

But heightened post-9/11 security restricted all airports to allowing only ticketed passengers beyond the TSA screening points.

Congressman Tim Murphy says, "We have this beautiful airport, award-winning airport, best airport in the world and you can't see it. Unless you buy a ticket."

That changes next Tuesday, Sept. 5.

Under an agreement with the TSA, Pittsburgh International will be able to screen non-ticketed passengers and clear them to go through security screen.

Airport CEO Christina Cassotis says they've set up the MyPITpass desk on the far end of the ticketing level of the landside building.

"Show up with a valid driver's license or passport as though you were buying a ticket," Cassotic says, "because we're going to run you against the no-fly list, that's how it works. We're going to check you the way the airlines check you."

The last three years, the airport has opened the airside to non-ticketed visitors using the same process, and it was those days that proved to the TSA it could be done.

Allegheny County Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald says, "When we've done this one or two days a year, it's been extremely popular and people have asked for more of it."

Fitzgerald says they don't think the added number of people going through security will slow down those waiting for a flight.

"If you're doing this every day, it's going to take away some of the uniqueness of it, but we also ask that if you are just going to visit, if you allow the ticketed passengers, if there is a long crowd, [to pass through]," said Fitzgerald.

Pat Panek who lives just up the road in Bridgewater can't wait for the Airmall access.

She says, "There are so many shops there we don't have that close. We're right down the street so we could come up here and browse around and see some really nice shops and spend the day."

That's exactly what Cassotis wants to hear.

"We like it when you spend money 'cause that lowers our cost to the airlines," she said.

Airmall CEO Ben Zandi says those holiday open houses have shown the merchants the possibilities of non-ticketed visitors.

"The sales improve 100 percent," he said. "I'm happy to get any increase we're optimistic."

The MyPITpass also will allow non-ticketed visitors to once again go to the airside terminal to meet passengers coming off the planes, or be with family members until they board their flight.

Congressman Murphy says it's about time.

"Perhaps you're welcoming home a soldier who has been off to war for several months. It should be the point where they step off that plane that family and friends are there to greet them," he said.

Cassotis and her team have been working with Rep. Murphy and the TSA for years trying to get the program off the ground.

Cassotis says, "This is fantastic. We're the first in the nation and we're excited to prove ourselves."

When the program goes into effect next week, Cassotis reminds those seeking passes to keep in mind you will be going through TSA screening so be mindful of what you carry with you to the airport.

For now, the passes will only be available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday through Friday, but if the pilot period goes well expansion is possible.

Lisa Pow wishes the program had been in effect today.

"Times like this, I'm sending my kids off, grown kids, but they are my kids. It would be nice to go down there [airside] and have something to eat with them before they fly. They have about a two-hour wait."

Pat Freeman who was heading home to Atlanta says MyPITpass will bring back an airport tradition where "families can be together and go all the way to the plane."

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