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Pittsburgh airport restaurants remove knives from tables

Saturday, September 15, 2001

By Mark Belko, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The extraordinary security measures in place at Pittsburgh International Airport as a result of Tuesday's terrorist attacks even reach into the airport's restaurants, where all knives have been removed from tables and public areas.

The Federal Aviation Administration directive extends even to plastic knives commonly available to the public at some terminal restaurants.

Representatives for TGI Friday's and Gladco Enterprises, which operates six airport eateries, confirmed yesterday that all knives had been banned by the FAA following Tuesday's hijackings, carried out by terrorists brandishing knives and box cutters.

Lou Coccoli, president of Gladco Enterprises, said his customers have taken the ban with "a grain of salt" so far, but he wondered whether they will be so accommodating as time goes by.

"People are being very kind today. But I guarantee you that by the end of next week, it's going to get a little hairy," he said.

The Allegheny County Airport Authority, which operates Pittsburgh International Airport, has asked the FAA to reconsider the prohibition for restaurants in their food preparation areas. Coccoli supports the request, saying the federal agency has "got to use common sense."

"Basically I think you can use a fork as a weapon, a screwdriver as a weapon. Some sense of reality has to set in, instead of panic," he said.

Coccoli still has knives in his restaurants' kitchens, which he said are behind locked doors and off limits to the public. In cases where customers have asked for steaks or sandwiches to be cut, employees have had to take them back to the kitchen.

"If you can't have a knife in the kitchen, you might as well close your doors. You just couldn't operate. There's no way you could cut your meals, cut your bread," he said.

But Coccoli's decision to keep knives on hand appears to run contrary to the FAA directive, which prohibits all knives in "the sterile area beyond the screening point." That would apply in all boarding areas of the airport's airside building, where Coccoli's restaurants are located. No distinctions are made for kitchens.

TGI Friday's, meanwhile, has removed all knives from its airport eateries, including kitchens, assistant general manager Michael Purpura said.

He said the ban has not had much of an effect on operations. All food at the airport restaurants is prepared and pre-cut before arriving on the premises. He also said TGI Friday's removed steak from its airport menu before Tuesday's attacks, leaving no need for steak knives.

"To be honest, it hasn't affected us in any way," he said.

However, Coccoli said he eventually may have to alter his menu if the prohibition is not lifted. He said he may end up having to serve "finger foods."

"If that's the bottom line, we'll have to do it," he said.

The FAA also has ordered all knives and "utility tools" removed from passengers and airline crew members, including pilots, at the security checkpoints. According to a US Airways memorandum, other prohibited items include corkscrews.

The directive also requires crew captains to verify the identification of each crew member. First officers must verify the identity of the captain. There also will be thorough searches of all aircraft each day.

FAA officials also have prohibited all vehicles from within 300 feet of the terminal. To accommodate the request, the airport has had to move drop-off and pick-up areas and alter other procedures. In addition, only ticketed passengers are permitted beyond the security checkpoints.

Ever so slowly, operations at Pittsburgh International Airport are ratcheting up, although they may not be at full speed until next week.

Yesterday, the airport handled about 60 percent of its normal 600 daily flights. That number should increase to about 75 percent today and to 80 or 90 percent by next week, Allegheny County Airport Authority Executive Director Kent George said.

US Airways, Pittsburgh's dominant airline, was flying about one third of its schedule systemwide. The airline "hopes to build fairly rapidly" on that over the next few days, spokesman Rick Weintraub said.

"[Thursday] we had a few hundred [flights]. Today we're up to about a third. Tomorrow we hope to improve significantly upon that," he said.

Airport operations appeared to go relatively smoothly, despite the very tight security precautions in place. There were no long lines at security checkpoints or even at the temporary pick-up and drop-off areas set up by the airport after Tuesday's terrorist attacks.

George said there may be changes in some security procedures as the situation dictates.

"We have to remain fluid. We have to do the things that work," he said.

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