No detail too small on annual Logan tour

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By Katie Johnston Chase
Globe Staff / November 25, 2010

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Striding through Terminal B at Logan International Airport yesterday morning on his annual day-before-Thanksgiving inspection tour, the Massachusetts Port Authority’s chief executive, Thomas Kinton, liked what he saw: sparkling floors, festive holiday wreaths, and most important, no apparent snarls in security lines from a threatened protest by passengers.

“We had a quiet morning this morning?’’ he asked a Transportation Security Administration officer, John Sherwood.

“Everything’s going extra smooth,’’ Sherwood said.

For days, airport officials had been preparing for National Opt-Out Day, in which travelers were urged to bypass controversial scanners that show revealing images of passengers’ bodies, in favor of pat-downs. But the feared security logjams never came to pass.

“Just like we planned,’’ Kinton said.

Most of Kinton’s days are spent focused on the big picture — overseeing the authority’s $350 million annual operating budget, juggling which airline should fly out of what terminal — but on the airport tours, he thinks small. Extremely small.

He pointed out a plastic bag in a shrub, burnt-out light bulbs, coffee cups on the floor, and fingerprint smudges on a window as the small group of Massport staffers trailing him made calls and took notes on BlackBerrys.

“It drives some people crazy,’’ said Kinton, 58, who has seen people roll their eyes when he nitpicks.

“It seems like he has more than two eyes,’’ said Gary Tobin, head of airport facilities.

The employees who followed Kinton struggled to keep up with his rapid pace, which slowed only when his fingerprint failed to open security doors.

“That was only one terminal. God help us,’’ said communications director Danny Levy, an hour into the five-mile sweep through the airport.

Logan is the 19th-busiest airport in the country, serving more than 25 million passengers last year, and it was operating at full capacity yesterday. Cleaning crews were beefed up, additional state police troopers roamed the terminals, extra TSA officials manned the checkpoints, and Massport employees who normally work as lawyers and engineers joined the public information staff on the front lines.

Earlier this month, the man who runs the airport was the subject of controversy. A proposed $22,000 pay raise for Kinton, one of the state’s highest-paid officials, was withdrawn after an objection by Governor Deval Patrick’s lone appointee on the Massport board of directors. The 7.5 percent raise would have boosted Kinton’s annual salary to $317,000 a year.

Kinton declined to talk about it yesterday. “It’s an issue for the board of directors, and that’s between them and me,’’ he said.

What he did want to talk about was cleanlinessespecially floors, which must be shiny and order. A crooked floor mat sparked a call to a terminal manager.

“Chairs,’’ he said to aviation direction Edward Freni, pointing to an off-kilter row.

“I see the chairs,’’ Freni said, impatiently. “There are a lot of people in them.’’

Kinton acknowledged that such close attention to detail might seem “whacked’’ but argued it helps set travelers at ease.

“If the first thing you see is a curb full of litter, a bus that’s not clean, they start to say, ‘Is this place working right?’ ’’ he said.

Yesterday, a drooping Christmas tree prompted a cry of “Don’t look!’’ from Deb Lombardo, deputy director of executive administration, as she hurried Kinton along.

Kinton, who started working at Logan nearly 35 years ago as a temporary engineer, conducted his first walkthrough in the early 1980s, when he was building maintenance manager. He does some sort of walkthrough about once a week, from solo trips for a quick roadway check to more formal treks with deputies.

“I want [employees] to see me, to know that I’m concerned that the place works well, so they’re on top of their game,’’ said Kinton, a Woburn native who lives in Winchester.

Kinton also talks to people as he goes, including a state trooper who filled him in yesterday on a suspicious substance that turned out to be heart medication and a passenger the airport boss used to coach in soccer.

“How’s business?’’ he asked the employees at a Swatch watch store. “Make some money.’’

Nearly five hours after the walk-through began in Terminal C, it ended in Terminal E. Deputy director Lombardo had eight pages of fixes to pass out. Jack Hemphill, Massport’s business general manager, was thankful the emergency call boxes wouldn’t be among them.

“Big sigh of relief,’’ Kinton said earlier in the day, pointing at Hemphill after testing one outside a parking garage.

A problem with the call system, on a day like yesterday, Hemphill said, “could be devastating for me.’’

Katie Johnston Chase can be reached at