Skip to content

Most airport visitor pass programs back up and running

Aug. 22, 2021
5 min read
Most airport visitor pass programs back up and running
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

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.

For more TPG news delivered each morning to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

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.

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.

TPG featured card

Best starter travel card
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

1 - 3X points
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases

Intro offer

Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points60,000 points
For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

Annual Fee

$95

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent, Good
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.

Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases
Best starter travel card
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

3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

    Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points
    60,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $95
  • Recommended Credit
    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.

    670-850
    Excellent, Good

Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases