Beginning today, vehicles left unattended in front of the Aspen/Pitkin County terminal building will be towed to the airport’s short-term parking lot, officials said Tuesday.
Airport security coordinator David Schneider explained the new policy during a Tuesday work session of Pitkin County commissioners. He said the change was sparked by concerns from the Transportation Security Administration, which doesn’t allow motorists to leave their vehicles unattended at any U.S. airport terminal’s drop-off or pick-up areas.
For now, no fee will be charged to anyone whose car is towed to the nearby short-term parking lot. The airport is providing one hour of free parking in the lot to assist those who have to leave their vehicles to assist someone who is departing from or arriving into Aspen.
“The bottom line is that it’s a TSA directive that there are to be no unattended vehicles left at the curbside at the airport,” Schneider said. Unattended vehicles will be subject to “immediate removal,” he added.
During a brief discussion of the policy, Commissioner Rachel Richards asked whether there will be spots in the short-term lot designated for those who are assisting people in the terminal or for the towed cars. Schneider said there wouldn’t, and if the short-term lot is already full, the vehicles would have to be towed to another area of the airport.
Richards additionally suggested that prominent signage and extra staff should be placed in front of the terminal so that motorists are fully aware of the situation. Commissioner Patti Clapper said the outreach already has been in place for a couple of weeks and the signage exists.
Richards asked if the airport could have “car-tenders” or a valet service to monitor or move vehicles for those who need to assist fliers, in lieu of towing. She said some sort of accommodation should be made for motorists dropping off or picking up people.
Schneider said he doubted TSA would be receptive to such an idea. He said the new policy has been well publicized, including notices on the airport’s social media sites, its website and local newspapers as well as the signs in front of the terminal.
The change also has been emphasized at area stakeholder meetings and a tow truck will be visible in front of the terminal. Signs pointing the way to ground transportation options have been posted inside the terminal to ease any confusion, he added.
Pitkin County government issued a news release Tuesday to point out how busy the airport will be during the upcoming holiday season. The current status of eight flights per day will increase to as many as 42 flights during the first week of the new year.
“Long security checkpoints are anticipated and travelers are advised to allow two hours before a flight to check in and be processed into the boarding area,” the release says.
In addition, airport staff will be assisting TSA with “line management” designed to shuffle travelers further forward at the security checkpoint if their flights are leaving sooner compared with others in the line.
“We can’t guarantee that our line-management efforts will eliminate the possibility of a missed flight because of long lines,” airport director John Kinney said in a prepared statement. “The best thing to do is arrive two hours early.”
Commissioner George Newman asked whether sheriff’s deputies would be posted at the airport during the busy holiday travel period. He said he could envision confrontations at the airport and the presence of law enforcement could help ease tensions.
Schneider said deputies periodically check on the airport but they aren’t stationed there full-time throughout the day.
“We are looking at increasing that presence,” he said. During peak arrival and departure periods, “things get really interesting.”
Commissioners suggested that the new policy would primarily affect locals who are used to leaving their vehicles in front of the terminal while helping friends or relatives with baggage as they arrive or depart. Visitors tend to rely on ground-transportation services such as short-term rentals, limousines, taxis or hotel shuttles.