MANATEE -- The woman in the blue uniform sits alone at the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport and stares down at an iPhone as a few last-minute travelers greet their families around her. Tearful reunions and family cheer aren't unusual at the airport.
"That happens every day, not just the holidays," Transportation Security Officer Fran Vitale said during one of her breaks.
But when it's Christmastime and you work at an airport, helping to bring other people together can mean making personal sacrifice on behalf of your family, or switching up typical Christmas traditions to accommodate a working schedule.
Vitale's children and grandchildren may live nearby, but her siblings and parents live in New York. She's watched reunions for the past two
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weeks, grandparents running with outstretchedarms to babies, hugs be-tween people who haven't seen each other in a long time.
"I was just texting my sister," Vitale said. "I feel sad watching them ... but I'm still so happy for them."
Other employees working at the airport Monday spoke about how working the holidays changes their Christmas.
Sgt. Jerry Lacertosa, a retired Sarasota police officer who now works for the airport police, said he would get off work in time to catch Christmas Eve Mass.
He'll be back to work today, too, so he won't exchange gifts with his family until the evening.
"My kids are adults now," he said. "They can handle it."
Rosco Brown's five children open presents the night before Christmas, because Brown also works Christmas Day.
"I'm definitely giving up family time,' said Brown, who has worked Christmas Eve and Christmas for Skycaps Customer Service for the past seven years.
His colleague, Freeman Jones, is giving up something else.
"The in-laws," he says with a hearty laugh. Jones said he genuinely enjoys working the holiday rush, which usually begins in the two to three weeks before Christmas.
He especially likes helping senior citizens who are dropped off by other family members and rely on Jones and his partners to help them get to their gate to visit other family.
"It's that trust that we can get them from point A to point B," Jones said. "They need that extra hand, that extra friendliness."
Still, not everyone who travels is always kind to employees. While most airport officials said people tend to be in better moods during the holidays, Jones and Brown said occasionally someone lashes out.
"You leave your ego in the parking lot," Jones said. "You tune it out."
By noon Monday, the airport was absent of any crowds.
"Yesterday was pretty busy, but it's going to dwindle off," Lacertosa said. "Most people are where they need to be."
Not for long.
On Thursday and Friday, more than 2,000 outgoing passengers will crowd this airport, employees said Monday.
But for now, it's the "slow-down" day at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, which means there's extra time to ponder who you are with -- and who is missing -- during the most wonderful time of the year.
Katy Bergen, Herald education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.