During the recent federal government shutdown reports from several other cities across the country were that their airports were facing long and some closed security lines as well as other disruptions. But that was not the case at Tucson International Airport.
Thanks to the remarkable women and men we have here in Tucson working for the Transportation Security Administration, the Federal Aviation Administration and Customs and Border Protection, all essential jobs were staffed.
This is despite the fact that those people were not being paid nor did they have any idea when they might see their next check.
For those of us who work at the airport it was heartbreaking to see our colleagues struggle with everyday decisions like how to pay for gas to get to and from work, or buy food and necessities not only for themselves but for their families at home.
Early on some of us from the Tucson Airport Authority brought food trays.
Airlines, our concessions and others contributed pizzas and doughnuts to the workers.
When some of us knocked on the door to the break room for TSA employees, we were greeted by a smiling face and the words, “Come on in, we’ll work for food.”
As time wore on, the jokes diminished but the spirit of many of these workers remained strong — at least outwardly so.
As the operator of airports regulated by these federal government agencies, the airport authority was prohibited from offering anything of significant monetary of value.
That’s when the people of our region stepped up and showed their compassion.
Sometimes it was a seemingly small thing. I’m told that about one out of every five passengers going through security at Tucson International made an effort to thank a TSA worker for continuing to do what they do every day.
Those comments went a long way.
Among other things, the airport authority enlisted the help of the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona. Through the cooperation of CEO Michael McDonald and Dana Yost, director of supply chain for the Food Bank, employees of the TSA, FAA and CBP were afforded the opportunity to come by a site on the airport to receive food.
Knowing that these are people not accustomed to having to obtain food from a food bank, the goal was to make it low-key and easy as possible.
I’m also proud that more than 20 of our Tucson Airport Authority employees volunteered their time help with the food distribution.
We estimate that almost half of the federal employees working at Tucson International Airport visited the distribution center to receive milk, meat, canned and dry goods such as rice, pasta and flour, and fruits and vegetables to help feed their families over the two days it was available.
Although the shutdown is over — at least for now — most employees received partial checks, with the rest expected on Feb. 11.
So many TSA workers welcomed Tucson City Councilmember Paul Cunningham recently, as he was instrumental in arranging with local businesses to give out gift cards.
Between those and other gift cards from companies and passengers — and some from people who just came out to the airport for no other reason — we estimate more than $9,000 in gift cards were received.
But what is perhaps most gratifying is that from the very start of the shutdown, the people who work for the TSA, who staff our airport’s air traffic control tower and who are on duty at CBP continued to see that our passengers, cargo and tenants were safe and able to do their business in about as normal a manner as possible.
From all of us at the Tucson Airport Authority, we thank them.
Judging from the outpouring of support from others in the Tucson region, I suspect it’s a sentiment our entire community shares.