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Airport offers gate access to loved ones of service members

Families greeting or seeing off military personnel at Buffalo Niagara International Airport can now say those "hellos" and "goodbyes" in a more private setting.

The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority and the federal Transportation Security Administration are allowing immediate family members plus one nonrelated individual access to the airline gates. Since 9/1 1, only ticketed passengers have been allowed beyond the TSA security checkpoint.

"The TSA started making this allowance about a year ago. It's been quietly happening at the Buffalo airport for a while, but we and NFTA wanted to get the word out to families who weren't aware of the change in policy," said local TSA spokesman Brett O'Neill.

The large number of active military personnel in the Buffalo area, many of whom are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, has led to a constant flow of arrivals and departures for servicemen and women at the Buffalo airport. The service member must be traveling under official military orders.

"It's an emotional time for service members and their loved ones that has been played out in front of a large number of strangers for the past few years on a daily basis," said C. Douglas Hartmayer, spokesman for the NFTA. "It's nice to be able to give them a little more privacy."

It has become commonplace to see joyous reunions and tearful departures take place between military personnel and their loved ones in the ticketing hall of the Buffalo airport, right in the middle of the daily flow of business and leisure travelers since U.S. troop presence overseas has increased.

Under the new military meeting and greeting policy, families can request a "gate pass" by going to the ticket counter of the airline the service member is flying on the day of the arrival or departure. The passes are available to immediate relatives -- spouses, siblings, parents and children -- plus one additional nonrelative.

Once gate passes are issued, family members still must go through the security checkpoint procedures, and all adults must produce photo identification. Passes are distributed at the discretion of the airlines, and final security clearance is in the hands of TSA personnel.

Despite tightened airport security, gate passes have continued to be available for parents and caretakers to drop off or greet unaccompanied minors or handicapped people at the flight gates. The military family allowance, which greatly expands the number of nonpassengers permitted to proceed beyond the security checkpoint, was only added recently.

"This is something we are pleased to offer. Our military personnel and their families certainly deserve this added convenience," O'Neill said.

A complete explanation of the gate pass policy is available on the NFTA's airport Web site at www.buffaloairport.com in the "News" section.

e-mail: slinstedt@buffnews.com

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