Greetings at the gate: Visitor pass programs on the uptick at U.S. airports
Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information.
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.
You could also be there to greet someone at the gate as they walked off the plane.
All that changed after 9/11, when tighter security restrictions turned send-offs and welcome-home embraces into hurried gestures at the curb or in the security checkpoint line.
But now, a growing list of U.S. airports have the OK from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to offer airside access to non-ticketed visitors so they can shop, eat, check out the airplanes and hug at the gate.
All the airport programs require visitors to apply for their passes ahead of time and be checked against no-fly lists. All visitor passholders are subject to the same security screening and regulations as the ticketed passengers, who are boarding a plane.
Airports you can visit without a plane ticket
Some airports are expanding their visitor pass programs after successful test programs. The airport in Flint, Michigan, recently launched its own program. Here's the latest information on visitor pass programs:
Tampa International Airport
“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,” said Joseph Lopano, the airport's chief executive officer.
The TPA All Access program, which was introduced in May 2019, operates from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., allows a non-flying guest with a visitor pass to visit airside bars, restaurants and passengers waiting areas in the terminal. 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 issues.
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 visitors to its terminal is Bishop International Airport (FNT) in Flint, Michigan.
The airport has two gift shops, two restaurant/bars, a kids’ play area, a nursing room and a shoeshine stand available to non-ticketed visitors under the new FNT Visitors Pass program. 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
“We understand that our facility is more than just an airport,” said Chad Newton, the Wayne County Airport Authority chief executive officer. “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 Tuesdays 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 daily from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Applications must be made at least 24 hours in advance.
The program was introduced in early December 2019, just a month after airport operations switched 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 through 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.