No ‘bye-byes’ at Vero airport after TSA says ‘nighty-night’


Over the past couple of weeks, several Breeze Airways passengers – particularly those who’ve endured weather-related delays while ticketed to travel on night flights from Vero Beach to Providence, Rhode Island – have learned a frustrating lesson:

The Transportation Security Administration’s security check at Vero Beach Regional Airport does not stay open very late.

That doesn’t happen at most major-market airports, where TSA security checkpoints are open 24 hours a day.

Here, though, the city’s small airport serves only one airline that offers limited service to only a few destinations in the Northeast. And when the departures of night flights are delayed, the TSA agents don’t wait around.

They shut down their operations and lock the door, usually at 9 p.m.

If would-be passengers arrive at 9:05 p.m., they will not be allowed to board their flights, even if they’re holding boarding passes. And if those passengers somehow find a way through the terminal and get to the boarding ramp, they will be stopped.

“That’s what happened to me,” Vero Beach resident Bernie Augustine said, recalling his attempt to board his long-delayed Breeze flight to Providence on March 26.

“A few of us managed to get into the terminal and went to the back, where the ramp is,” he continued. “As we approached the ramp, a woman stopped us and said, ‘If you cross that line, that police officer is going to arrest you.’

“I told her, ‘I’ve got my boarding pass and a carry-on, and I just want to go to Providence,’” he added. “She said, ‘Not tonight,’ and that was it. There was nothing we could do.”

According to Augustine, there were about a dozen other ticketed passengers left stranded by the security-check closure, even though the flight didn’t depart until after 10:30 p.m.

John’s Island resident Gail Williams said her family members experienced a similar scenario two days later, when they arrived at the airport at 9:05 p.m. for their delayed Breeze flight to Providence, only to be told by a TSA agent the security check was closed.

It didn’t matter that they had already checked their baggage, or that passengers on the inbound flight arriving from Providence were still deplaning.

“My son-in-law spoke with a police officer to see how they could get their bags, but he was told they couldn’t,” Williams said. “There was nobody from Breeze there, so they went home.”

Her family members flew from Orlando to Boston the next day, and Breeze arranged to deliver their baggage.

“You’d think the TSA would put up a sign that tells you the security check closes at 9 p.m.,” Williams said. “How many people know that?”

Actually, a Breeze representative said the airline not only sends text messages and emails to keep passengers informed on the status of their flights, but it also provides similar alerts pertaining to security-check closures.

However, Breeze spokesman Gareth Edmondson-Jones said Monday the airline sends those updates to only the person booking the flights – and the text messages are sent to only those passengers who provide their phone numbers.

“So if you want the updates,” he added, “you should include your phone number when you book and, on the day you’re traveling, regularly check both your text messages and emails.”

When Breeze knows flights are going to be delayed, especially at night, the airline asks the TSA to keep their security checkpoints open, Edmondson-Jones said, “but we have no control over it.”

The TSA’s Southeast Region office did not respond to an email inquiry sent by Vero Beach 32963 last week.

Vero Beach Airport Director Todd Scher said security-check staffing is arranged between Breeze and the TSA. The airport plays no role in it.

“Everyone expects the airport to make everything right, but we don’t get involved with that stuff,” Scher said. “Back when we first started talking to the Breeze people, they asked us if we wanted to provide the customer service and baggage operation.

“A lot of airports do that,” he added, “but we said no – that we just want to be the airport.”

Scher said the decision to shut down the security checkpoint at 9 p.m. probably was made by the TSA.

If so, Carolyn Stutt, another John’s Island resident, strongly disagreed with that decision.

She wasn’t among the passengers who got stiffed by the TSA. She was there on March 26 to pick up her two grandchildren who were arriving from Providence.

“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” Stutt said. “To get there at 9:05 and not be able to make a 10:30 or 10:45 flight? It was a horror story for those people. How could the TSA agents just leave?”

Or as Augustine put it: “Why would the TSA leave us stranded? They had to know people were coming.”

Augustine said he booked a flight on Breeze for the following day, and he was given the same discount fare he paid for his original trip. He attributed the inconvenience to a “communications failure” between the airline and its passengers.

“I kept getting the text messages, updating the status of the flight, but I didn’t see anything about the security check closing at 9 p.m.,” Augustine said. “I didn’t even think about checking my email.”

If he had, he would’ve found an email from Breeze recommending that he arrive at the airport at 8:15 p.m.

“It’s a small airport, and I live three miles away, so I didn’t need to be there two hours in advance,” Augustine said. “And by the time I saw the email, I was already out having dinner.

“They should’ve put out a text message marked ‘urgent’ to tell us the security check was closing at 9 p.m.”

If Augustine or any of the other stranded passengers who booked the flight and provided their phone numbers didn’t receive a text message and email alerting them to the closure, Edmondson-Jones said, “It was an anomaly.”

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