On what the Transportation Security Administration warned might be the busiest day ever for passenger screening, it was business as usual at Pittsburgh International Airport.
On June 29, the Friday before the Fourth of July, about 18,500 people were expected to depart for family vacations, birthday celebrations and fishing trips, or to visit relatives or travel back home from business in Pittsburgh.
During a rather typical morning rush between 5 to 7 a.m., a few people laughed when told they were traveling on potentially the busiest day of the summer. (“Of course that’s the day I’d pick!” one said.)
Aside from some longer lines at the Delta and Spirit ticket counters, and a brief baggage screening machine glitch, passengers moved from curb to gate with ease. Airport personnel arrived early to assist with TSA queue management and baggage system operations, and TSA added a handful of officers for the morning rush.
Roger Davis, 49, of Rochester, Pa., was traveling to New York to play in the annual Liberty Open tennis tournament. Alex Labarbera was off to Las Vegas with friends and family to celebrate his 21 st birthday. “Maybe we’ll have Billy Idol on the plane, like in ‘The Wedding Singer’ movie,” Alex’s mom joked.
Noah Scheinberg, 23, of Altoona, Pa., was flying to Los Angeles for the first time to visit his cousin. “We’ll probably do some beach time and maybe a deep sea fishing charter,” he said.
As they waited at the Southwest ticket counter for wheelchair escorts, Ruth and John Brown of White Oak, Pa., were talking about what was in store at the annual international Lion’s Club conference in Las Vegas, which they have attended for the past three years.
“We’re going to see some shows … Cirque du Soleil, David Copperfield, the Bee Gees,” John said. “There’s a lot of people, and it’s always a lot of fun.”
For the wheelchair runners, however, it was pretty much a normal start to a summer Friday.
“To tell you the truth, every morning is busy for us,” said Walter Merida-Lopez, a supervisor for Aviation Safeguards, which operates wheelchair services for most airlines at Pittsburgh International Airport. “From 3:30 to 6:00 a.m., that’s our first push of the day, then it just depends on how many passengers are flying through. Every day is different here. So far, we’ve probably pushed about 40 (passengers) in the first two hours. Sometimes we push more.”
In the Airside terminal, coffee was brewing, bagels toasting and made-to-order omelets were cooking at Marathon Diner, where hungry travelers line up for breakfast all day.
“This actually isn’t that busy for us,” said owner Drew Janis. “We’ve been seeing rushes all week long, especially during the morning and evening.”
At PIT, Friday appeared to be a mere warm-up for what is expected to be a busy July. More than 180,000 travelers are expected to arrive and depart through July 5, and the airport is expected to only get busier through the month, with vacation travel and major conferences coming to town. As is normal, the busiest departure times are between 5-7 a.m. and 4-6 p.m.