TSA: Thanks, Pittsburgh!

(Karen Keys-Turner serves as the Transportation Security Administration’s Federal Security Director for Pittsburgh International Airport)

Letter to the editor:

Overwhelming.

That is the word to describe the amazing level of support that the Transportation Security Administration employees at Pittsburgh International Airport received during the partial government shutdown in December and January.

The outpouring of support from travelers, the airlines, the Airport Authority and the Greater Pittsburgh region as a whole has been truly overwhelming, and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

Knowing that the TSA workforce was on the job without getting paid, the airport community, passengers and the ‘Burgh community stepped in to support us. The airport and airlines that service the airport as well as community restaurants, bakeries, delis and businesses provided lunches for the TSA workforce.

The airport vendors offered free meals, gift cards and food. In the terminal, the McDonald’s and Chick-fil-A shops offered free meals daily to TSA and other federal employees. Other airport vendors offered their cookies, bagels, treats, coffees and gift cards.

Passengers stopped to greet the TSA officers and thank them for their service. Many travelers brought along gift cards to help the TSA workforce offset their temporary loss of paychecks. Others, after passing through the checkpoint, purchased gift cards inside the terminal and returned to the checkpoint with hands full of gift cards.

Students from Colfax Elementary School in Pittsburgh sent us letters and cards of support. Youngsters traveling with their parents presented us with drawings that they made for the TSA officers that were immediately taped to the TSA supervisor’s podium.

During the government shutdown, Pittsburgh International Airport, airport concessionaires, local businesses, and community organizations donated food and other items to nearly 300 federal workers.

Knowing that funds were short, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and Pittsburgh Airport Aviation Ambassadors offered part-time jobs for TSA officers to work when they were off-duty. The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank stood up a food pantry on site to support federal government employees in need.

Locally, the Muslim Association of Greater Pittsburgh donated meals for lunch, and the East Liberty Presbyterian Church served dinner for TSA employees. The Hebrew Free Loan Association offered short-term no-interest loans and Citizens Bank offered low-interest loans to TSA employees in need.

Ten local hotels from the Hilton, Hyatt and Marriott chains donated cases of non-perishable food for TSA employees to take home to their families.

Finally, I want to thank the TSA officers and other TSA essential management and leadership staff who showed up and continued to serve in a professional manner without pay, taking care of each other while taking care of TSA business and honoring their oath to keep travelers safe.

When the officers knew of colleagues who were in greater financial need, they offered to carpool or they passed along their gift cards. When one officer suffered a devastating loss due to fire, his colleagues stepped up to support him, even though they too were dealing with tough circumstances.

Your support kept us going. When people refer to Pittsburgh as the City of Champions, they typically refer to our sports teams. But these past few weeks, it has been the residents of the Pittsburgh region who have been our champions.  Thank you so much!

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