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Most airport visitor pass programs back up and running

Aug. 22, 2021
5 min read
Most airport visitor pass programs back up and running
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Before the pandemic, a handful of airports around the country offered gate pass programs that allowed non-ticketed visitors to join ticketed passengers on the security checkpoint lines and gain access to the secure side of the terminals.

The events of 9/11 and the creation of the Transportation Security Administration had put an end to the mingling of ticketed passengers with non-ticketed airport visitors sending a loved one off or waiting for them to bound off their flight. But starting in 2017, when Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) received permission from TSA to test out a visitor program, airports in Seattle, Detroit, New Orleans and elsewhere began offering this amenity as well.

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Most of the visitor pass programs were paused during the pandemic. Which wasn’t a big deal because, for more than a year not many planes were flying and not many people were going to airports anyway. But now that more people are flying and reconnecting with loved ones, those time-gifting gate programs mean more than ever.

With so many actually wanting to take advantage of the airport gate pass programs, TPG checked on the status of as many programs as we could find. [If we missed your airport’s program, please let us know]. Here’s what we learned.

Where can you meet grandma at the gate?

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) temporarily suspended its Visitor Pass Program on March 21, 2020, during that scary time when cities, states, and countries were just starting to ramp up their coronavirus restrictions.

The program, (which we tested out during a daycation in January 2020) relaunches Tuesday, Aug. 24. A visitor may apply for a pass up to seven days in advance (or day of) by filling out a form online with their full legal name (as it appears on their passport or driver’s license), date of birth, and gender. If approved by TSA, the visitor receives a QR code to show at the security checkpoint along with a TSA-approved ID. Day passes are issued for use 8 am to 10 pm, every day of the week.

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

Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY) introduced its MSY Guest Pass in December 2019, a month after the airport moved operations to the new terminal. The program was not suspended due to COVID-19, “although the use of the guest pass program declined significantly during the pandemic,” airport spokeswoman Erin Burns told TPG. “It was still available to anyone who needed to use the service.” MYS’s program is available seven days a week, from 11 am to 8 pm. 50 passes are available each weekday; 100 passes are available for both Saturdays and Sundays. Reservations and applications must be made at least 24 hours in advance of a visit.

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The new terminal at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. (Photo courtesy of Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport)

Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW) began its DTW Destination Pass program on October 22, 2019. The program was paused between March 16 and August 31, 2020, due to health concerns related to the pandemic, but is now fully operational. Approved visitors can access both the McNamara and North terminals seven days a week, from 8 am to 8 pm. As with all gate pass programs, non-ticketed visitors are subject to the same security screening regulations as passengers boarding planes.

In Orange County, California, John Wayne Airport (SNA) didn’t have a gate pass program before the pandemic but rolled out the OCAirPASS, in late April 27, 2020.

“Our initial launch of the program resulted from the concession closures throughout the Airport's non-sterile (pre-security) side,” says JWA spokeswoman AnnsSophia Servin. “As a result of the pandemic, non-badged employees affiliated with rental car companies and ground transportation services could no longer purchase food or drink items on site. The program was made available to the public shortly thereafter.” Terminal concessions returned to pre-pandemic hours of operation and full menus in August; guests who secure an OCAirPASS may “shop, dine, or stay with or greet relatives and friends at the gate,” says Servin.

And at Bishop International Airport in Flint, Michigan, the FNT Visitors Pass program started ramping back up in March 2021 after being paused during the pandemic for at least six months. “Visitors use our website to sign up online and preregister. Upon arrival at the airport, they check in at our police station to get their pass to go through the TSA checkpoint to the airside,” says Pat Corfman, the airport’s director of Marketing, Public Relations & Air Service Development. “People are using it to see family members off at the gate—especially the elderly and the military.”

Some gate pass programs still on pause

Not all gate pass programs are back up and running just yet.

The TPA All-Access program, at Tampa International Airport began in April 2019 but was paused due the pandemic and is still on hold, according to TPA spokesman Danny Valentine. “We’ve talked about bringing it back, but we don’t yet have a firm date,” said Valentine.

And at Pittsburgh International, the airport that pioneered gate pass programs, the myPITpass program is still temporarily suspended. “We are working with TSA on a resumption date for the program,” PIT spokesman Bob Kerlick told TPG.

Photo by Atlantide Phototravel/Getty Images

Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
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  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

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    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

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Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,300+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and the Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023