ChildHelp founders Yvonne Fedderson and Sara O’Meara enjoyed a leisurely lunch Wednesday at a busy restaurant in Terminal 4 at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
“We came an hour earlier than usual to make sure we had food and water before we had to (board the plane),” O’Meara said.
The two women, who founded the Scottsdalebased nonprofit aimed at abolishing child abuse, were en route to Orange County, Calif., the first of seven destinations they have to visit in two months.
It was the first trip the frequent travelers made since the Valley airport — and the rest of the country’s air hubs — heightened security following the revelation of a terrorist plot scare in Britain a week earlier.
The new security restrictions compelled the women to arrive at the airport early, pack their makeup in checked bags instead of carry-ons, and forgo the water bottles they usually have in hand as they hit the ground running making speeches and presentations.
But they took the changed atmosphere in stride.
“If they lose our bags, we’ll just have to buy more makeup when we get there,” O’Meara said. “Nothing stops child abuse, so we have to keep going.”
Sky Harbor operations were as normal Wednesday as on any busy summer day, said airport spokeswoman Julie Rodriguez. After the “orange level” rules kicked in Aug. 10, early-morning fliers languished in nearly two-hourlong security checkpoint lines as they emptied their carryons of anything liquid or gooey from toothpaste to shampoo. But by the weekend, security waits were just about normal, Rodriguez said.
“We’re still recommending that people plan to arrive at the airport two hours early,” she said. “We’re still very busy with record passengers for the fourth year in a row.”
The extra time gives passengers time to park their cars, check baggage and get through security checks without fear of missing a flight even at peak times of the day, she said.
Especially since flights continued to stay on schedule throughout the week, she said.
The number of bags checked by Tempe-based US Airways jumped 20 percent after the new rules went into effect, said airline spokeswoman Valerie Wunder. It has since leveled off to about a 16 percent boost from preorange alert days, she said.
But the carrier increased staff to accommodate the bigger volume, and waits at the baggage check-in have not increased, Wunder said.
US Airways also ramped up water and beverage service aboard flights for people like Fedderson and O’Meara who typically carry water on board, Wunder said.
Some passengers, surprised to find themselves with lots of time to kill at the airport, are using it to enjoy refreshments at terminal shops.
On Wednesday afternoon, the line at the Cold Stone Creamery stand was longer than the queues at all four security checkpoints at Sky Harbor’s busiest terminal.
Joyce and Theodore Miller of Bloomington, Ind., fresh from dropping their son off at Arizona State University in Tempe were downing some Cold Stone treats before heading for their gates.
“It turns out we have a lot of time,” Theodore Miller said. The Millers weren’t bothered by the wait. Or the new rules, even though they flew to the Valley on the day the restrictions first went into effect.
“Everything is nicer,” Joyce Miller said. “Flight attendants are not spending so much time stuffing bags into overhead bins. And I feel very safe.”
Ruth Wilson of the Bahamas and her two friends, heading home from a visit with Wilson’s daughter in Chandler, also heeded suggestions to come to the airport early — by a big factor. The three women arrived nearly five hours before their flight. Elsie Mae Johnson was glad they had plenty of time to finish up goodies they didn’t know they couldn’t take through security.
“We had to chew up all our gum,” Johnson said. “And drink all this,” Dandria Miller said of the large bottle of Frappucino she had finally finished. “Even if it means we have to fly in our underwear, we follow the rules.”
Airport bars and restaurants are reaping benefits from people like the Millers, Fedderson and O’Meara and the Wilson party. Airport concessionaire HMS Host would not comment on how much their sales may have increased, but Terminal 4 dining establishments were clearly busy.
Yolanda Kizer, a local owner of several gift shops and newsstands, said newsstand sales were “steady,” but increases were “nothing significant.” Kizer said she has signs at her four Sky Harbor stores informing people about the banned items. “Customers have come in and said, ‘I’m going to buy this ChapStick and use it and throw it away.’ ” she said.
- Tribune writer Lynn Ducey contributed to this report