My ‘daycation’ at Sea-Tac: Everything you need to know about airport visitor-pass programs

Jan 12, 2020

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Frequent flyers already spend a lot of time at airports. Too much, some will tell you.

But the popularity of visitor-pass programs that allow people flying nowhere to just come hang out in the terminals is a sure sign that airports have a destination appeal all their own.

Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) started the trend with its MyPitPass program, which allows visitors to stroll through the terminals Monday to Friday. Tampa International Airport (TPA), Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY) and Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW) followed suit with gate-pass programs of their own. And Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), which tested a gate-pass program last year, made it a permanent offering this past holiday season.

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How gate-pass programs work

Sea-Tac is my home airport and I usually show up at the airport early on travel days. But even with time to spare and an admitted obsession with airports, I don’t always take the time to visit a favorite piece of art or trek to distant concourses to check out a new dining venue.

Floor-to-ceiling windows give a view of the airfield at Seattle Tacoma International Airport. (Photo by Stuart Westmorland/Getty Images)
Floor-to-ceiling windows give a view of the airfield at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. (Photo by Stuart Westmorland/Getty Images)

So I took advantage of the new SEA Visitor Pass program to schedule a ‘daycation’ at the airport.

Getting a Visitor Pass

This part was easy. The SEA Visitor Pass program allows visitors to apply for one of 100 daily passes in advance or on the day of their planned visit. The online application asks for your full legal name (as it appears on your passport or driver’s license, your date of birth and your gender). Applications are acknowledged via email. Once TSA reviews the application and gives the OK, the airport emails a QR code that, with your ID, will get you through the security checkpoint on your selected day.

I applied on a Monday for a day pass for Wednesday. My QR code arrived in the wee hours on Wednesday morning, although airport officials say they expect notice to come sooner than that in the future.

Clearing security

This part was easy too. With my QR code on my phone and printed out on paper, I showed up at the designated TSA checkpoint on the appointed day. The designated checkpoint is #3, which is also used by general passengers.

I couldn’t use my TSA PreCheck status with my visitor pass, so I made sure I arrived at the checkpoint after the morning rush. I also wore easy-to-remove shoes and carried a small bag with just the day’s essentials. The same TSA rules apply to visitors, so pack your liquids and electronics accordingly. The TSA officer who took my pass seemed familiar with the program, checked my documents and waved me through.

Things to do

With my Fitbit charged and my hands free of carry-on gear, the first activity on my agenda was a leisurely art tour of SEA to visit some of the pieces I usually rush right by. Back in 1968, Sea-Tac Airport was the first to begin building an art collection, which now includes museum-quality glass, sculpture, photography and paintings and some valuable works by the likes of Frank Stella, Robert Rauschenberg and Louise Nevelson.

As I walked the concourses and the Central Terminal, I also took the time to stop and listen to several performers, who are part of SEA’s robust live-music program.

Along the way, I shopped. I had planned on doing nothing more than window shopping. However, the combination of a daycation mindset with no flight to catch and no already-full carry-ons to lug around somehow made it easier to open my wallet in the Sub Pop music store, in the Planewear store filled with oodles of airline-themed travel gear, and the new airport branch of the Elliot Bay Book Company. I even eyed some classic and corny Seattle and Washington State souvenirs, such as the Sleepless in Seattle nightshirt and tiny Sasquatch statues.

(Photo by Harriet Baskas for The Points Guy)
(Photo by Harriet Baskas for The Points Guy)

Where to eat

SEA has been refreshing many of the local dining venues. During my daycation, I checked out the new menus and the prices, scoped out the seating and noted which new venues offer views of the airfield.

I nibbled on sweet little Waffle Fish at Kathy Casey’s Lucky Louie Fish Shack. I had coffee at Dilettante Chocolates & Mocha Cafe. I considered having a Purple Rain cocktail with my healthy vegetarian breakfast at Floret by Cafe Flora and had a made-to-order poke bowl for lunch at Koi Shi Sushi Bento.

Bonus: Learning to save a life

Sea-Tac Airport is one of 16 airports around the country that have one or more Hands-Only CPR training kiosks in their terminals. So my plan was to end my daycation at SEA by learning a skill that may someday save a life.

(Photo by Harriet Baskas for The Points Guy)
(Photo by Harriet Baskas for The Points Guy)

The ATM-sized Hands-Only CPR kiosk is designed as a do-it-yourself experience, with video instructions, practice sessions on a dummy torso and an on-screen evaluation of your performance. Fire chief Randy Krause came by to supervise my session and his uniformed presence no doubt helped draw the crowd that witnessed my repeated tries to improve my failing scores and convinced many onlookers to give it a try.

Bottom line

Gate pass or visitor pass programs are popping up at airports across the country. Whether you are visiting an airport for the first time or visiting your home airport for the first time without a boarding pass in hand, these new programs are a great way to experience all an airport has to offer without the stress of travel or a suitcase weighing you down.

Feature image courtesy of Port of Seattle.

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