Neglect Plagues Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Airport

On the very day Pennsylvania’s COVID cases screamed from 200-a-day to 1,000-a-day and the CDC issued desperate new masking guidelines to save lives, the director of the airport President Joe Biden flies into when he comes home to Scranton sent me a thank you note.

Frankly, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport Executive Director Carl Beardsley’s message is more of a screw you note to me and the president.

After a recent cross-country trip that took me and my wife to five major airports, we returned home July 20 at 11:30 p.m. to our local airport known as AVP, the professed gateway to Northeastern Pennsylvania and the Pocono Mountains. The next day I telephoned Beardsley to alert him to serious public safety violations of federal mask law my wife and I witnessed after we landed.

Beardsley said he was “very surprised” and “not happy.”

But he quickly disagreed and took offense at my observations that he and his staff failed at enforcing the federal law that his counterparts at every other airport I visited stringently enforced.

“You have a major problem,” I said.

“We don’t have a major problem,” Beardsley said.

Nothing like what we saw at AVP occurred in Chicago, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles or Washington, D.C.

As we waited for our luggage, four unmasked men lounged in chairs along the wall. Three of the four wore fluorescent T-shirts Beardsley said identified them as airport workers.

A single uniformed Transportation and Security Administration (TSA) officer stood by the upstairs escalator. The TSA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that has authority over the security of the traveling public in the United States. We saw no other security or law enforcement officer patrolling any public space at the airport.

Too many travelers from our flight pulled off their masks as they waited barefaced and breathing for their bags. People arriving to pick up passengers also entered airport property without the required masks.

Wearing a mask or face covering in airports and on planes became federal law in February. The mandate came after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a mask-wearing order that built on an executive order Biden issued in January. The mandate is enforced through a Security Directive issued by the TSA and applies to customers and employees.

Based on what we saw at AVP you wouldn’t know a national health care emergency exists that has already killed more than 600,000 people in America.

With restrictions loosening, people get lax when they go to Walmart or to restaurants, Beardsley said.

Walmart and restaurants are not under a federal law requiring masks, I said.

Beardsley told me he planned to write a memo to all airport employees. He also complained he felt under attack and that I was “rude.”

Beardsley seemed oblivious to the potential life-threatening attack against me and anyone else at AVP facing potential COVID carriers who might infect us, making us sick enough to die.

Officials in Lackawanna and Luzerne counties who run the airport hired Beardsley in 2014 at a salary of $115,000 a year. Back then Beardsley also received a $400-per-month taxable car allowance.

Board members in May extended Beardsley’s contract for three years beginning July 1, 2021, at a salary of $130,520.00 with two potential extensions. Beardsley also received two additional PTO (paid time off) days.

Citing lawyer/client privilege, airport co-solicitor Don Frederickson, who also serves as Lackawanna County general counsel, declined to answer my question about whether he communicated with Beardsley about illegal behavior I witnessed on the night I returned to AVP from Washington, D.C.

Here are the questions I emailed to Beardsley about his promised solutions to the negligence I observed:

“Have you yet met with members of your team to discuss the violation of federal law requiring people to wear masks at all U.S. airports including AVP that we discussed on the phone yesterday?

What if any other action did you take regarding this failure to enforce federal law?

Did you write and circulate a memo as you said you planned to do?

If so, when can you email me the memo?

Did you write and send any emails to any government official regarding our discussion?

If so, when can you send them to me?

Will you discuss this matter at the next Bi-County Airport Board meeting?

When, where and what time is the next meeting scheduled?

Are you still director at the Aviation Council of Pennsylvania?”

This is Beardsley’s response:

Mr. Corbett:

“Thanks for your comments about your recent experience at AVP.  We strive to provide the best customer experience at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport.

We’re mindful of your concern and the other comments we receive on various topics.  We are always working to achieve positive results for everyone. Reminders of mask mandates are certainly a part of this and are handled through our regular in-house communications and updates.

The next time you find yourself at AVP and are faced with a similar situation, please don’t hesitate to visit the Airport Security Office or the Ambassador desk to report it.  I am confident that they will help you anyway that they can.      

As for the next board meeting, it is scheduled for August 26th at 10:30 a.m. and my term as president of the PA Aviation Council has concluded.

Thanks for using AVP.”

The only good news in Beardsley’s responses is that his taking up space on a statewide aviation council has concluded.

My wife has already filed a formal TSA complaint.

I plan to file mine soon.

An otherwise excellent airport my wife and I have used for decades whenever we can is now an embarrassment Beardsley is too inept to fix. Taxpayers don’t need local political provincialism to get any worse than it already is.

Next time Biden comes to Scranton for an event he might want to land elsewhere and drive the rest of the way home.

Political germs are bad enough.

Killer germs are far worse.