Watchdog Group, Passengers Voice Their Displeasure Over Special Treatment

NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Newly released records show four commissioners at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey were allowed to bypass regular security lines and received other perks when they flew out of airports run by the agency.

The Port Authority released the records Thursday. Newspapers requested the documents after the revelation that the FBI has requested records from United Airlines and Columbia Metropolitan Airport in South Carolina. A direct flight between Newark and Columbia began while David Samson, who had a home in South Carolina, was chairman of the Port Authority and ended days after he resigned last year.

The records said workers at times used golf carts to escort Port Authority officials between their cars and airport gates – skipping check-in lines.

WEB EXTRA: Read The Records

“It’s probably one of the most outrageous things that’s come across my desk,” Phyllis Salowe-Kaye, head of the advocacy group New Jersey Citizen Action, told WCBS 880’s Levon Putney. “People can barely arrange their travel around reduced flights and full flights.”

The Port Authority has been receiving deep scrutiny since revelations early last year that approach lanes to its George Washington Bridge were shut down as part of political payback.

Port Authority Chairman John Degnan said the special airport treatment for board members has “basically come to a halt.”

Commissioner David Steiner and his wife most often received the perks, though other commissioners also got them. In all, Steiner, Anthony Sartor, Virginia Bauer and Samson and their family members received the special treatment a total of 24 times from 2010 through last year at Newark Liberty and John F. Kennedy airports.

Airport chauffeur Frank Pacifico told CBS2’s Dick Brennan on Friday he has seen big shots of all kinds get the red carpet treatment.

“I see it all the time,” Pacifico said. “Security guard takes somebody, brings them up and you say ‘who was that? Uh, that was one of the employee of the airport.’ They don’t tell you, you don’t know exactly who it is, but whatever, you can figure it out yourself.”

The unpaid board is appointed by the governors of New York and New Jersey, but all four commissioners on record using what’s called “special passenger assistance” are from New Jersey.

In some cases, they were met by employees at their cars and taken to faster employee-only security lines. They also boarded planes early and were shuttled to an airport lounge.

“I mean we all wait in line, why shouldn’t they have to wait in line?” Salowe-Kaye said. “The average person walks to the gate.”

Salowe-Kaye said commissioners were appointed to work for residents “to make our travel better and it seems like the only thing that they’re doing is making their personal lives better and easier.”

The new revelations had some people at Newark Liberty Airport more cynical than ever.

“It’s kind of annoying, but it is how it goes I guess,” passenger Taylor Winkle told CBS2’s Brennan.

“It probably is business as usual. It’s unfortunate,” added Ken Eschrich of Orange, Connecticut.

“Nothing surprises me in New Jersey,” airport worker Barry Kaplan said with a laugh.

The special treatment is normally reserved for governors and a small number of other high-profile travelers who are accompanied by security details.

Degnan said the reports represent all the documents related to escorts for commissioners since 2010. But he said it’s possible that other similar requests were made without the forms being filled out.

State Sen. Robert Gordon (D-Bergen County) told Putney people are beginning to lose trust in the Port Authority, and the latest revelations make it worse.

“But the Port Authority is an organization that needs the trust of the public,” Gordon told Putney.

He said the perks are not acceptable.

“It may not be illegal,” Gordon said. “But it’s really bad form.”

Gordon is leading efforts in working with New York lawmakers to try to get both state legislatures to overturn vetoes late last year by Govs. Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo on Port Authority reform measures.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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