No ticket? No problem, thanks to these airport visitor pass programs.


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In the “good old days” of air travel you could accompany a friend or a family member to the airport, hang out together before the flight and save the goodbyes until boarding.

Better yet, you could be there to greet a loved one at the gate as they walked off the plane.

All that changed after 9/11, of course. Now send-offs and welcome home embraces take place hurriedly at the curb or while the traveler merges into the checkpoint line.

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But now, in what is certainly a trend, a growing list of U.S. airports have the OK from the Transportation Security Administration to offer airside access to non-ticketed visitors so they can shop, eat, check out the airplanes and hug at the gate.

(Photo by Caiaimage/Agnieszka Olek/Getty Images)

All the programs require guests to apply for their passes and be checked against no-fly lists, and all pass holders are subject to the same security screening regulations as ticketed passengers boarding a plane.

Airports you can visit without a plane ticket

This week, two airports expanded their visitor pass program and one new program began.

Tampa International Airport

Beginning Sunday, January 18, 2020, Tampa International Airport (TPA) is extending its Saturday-only TPA All-Access program to everyday.

“This airport belongs to the Tampa Bay community, and our All Access program is one way of making sure as many people as possible can experience all it has to offer,” TPA Airport CEO Joe Lopano said in a statement.

TPA’s program, which was introduced in April 2019, operates from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and allows travelers who apply for and receive visitor passes to visit one airside per visit. TPA has four airside areas (A, C, E and F) and each has its own security checkpoint.

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

In December 2019, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) brought back and made permanent the SEA Visitor Pass it tested out in 2018. Now, just a month after re-introducing the program, SEA has doubled – to 200 – the number of daily visitors passes it will issue.

SEA’s Visitor Pass program operates daily, from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Bishop International Airport in Flint, Michigan

The newest airport to welcome non-ticketed guests into the terminal is Bishop International Airport (FNT) in Flint, MI.

The airport, which has two gift shops, two restaurant/bars, a kids’ play area, a nursing room and a shoeshine stand, introduced the FNT Visitors Pass gate pass program this week. The program operates Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Registration is allowed no more than 24 hours prior to your visit.

Detroit Metropolitan Airport

On January 3, 2020, Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW), announced that it was extending its DTW Destination Pass indefinitely after a success trial run.

“We understand that our facility is more than just an airport,” said WCAA CEO Chad Newton. “It is a pleasure to offer everyone a chance to experience DTW and created memories that will last a lifetime.”

The program is limited to 75 DTW Destination Passes per day and allows guests to enter the airport terminal Tuesday through Sundays from 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. and stay in the terminals until 10 p.m. 

Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport

The MSY Guest Pass program at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY) is available 7 days a week from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. Applications must be made at least 24 hours in advance.

The program was introduced in early December 2019, just a month after the operations switched over from the worn, old terminal to a swanky new one.

Pittsburgh International Airport

In the summer of 2017, Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) was the first to introduce a visitor program, with “MyPITPass,” giving the non-traveling public access to the shops, restaurants and artwork beyond the security checkpoints. The PIT gate passes are issued Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (no advance sign-up necessary) and a pass is valid for the day it’s issued.

What do you think of the airport visitor pass programs? Have you made use of one of these programs?  Let us know what your experience was like.

Additional reporting by Liz Hund.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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