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In the good old days of air travel (i.e., before 9/11), your friends and family could accompany you to airport for a hearty send-off meal or a hug at the gate.

Now the good-byes take place unceremoniously at the curb or as you join the security checkpoint line.

But some airports have begun to change that scenario. Two U.S. airports now allow non-travelers to pass through TSA checkpoints so that they can patronize “airside” airport shops and restaurants.

This week, Tampa International Airport (airport code TPA) became the latest, announcing a Saturday-only pass program, called All-Access, that will allow up to 100 non-ticketed visitors to get gate passes to go beyond security and into the airside areas.

The first day of All-Access is Saturday, May 4, which just happens to coincide with the launch of several Mother’s Day specials and discounts at many TPA shops and restaurants.

“To those feeling left out because you can’t get to all these great restaurants and shops we’ve been touting: We heard you,” TPA CEO Joe Lopano said in a statement announcing the program. “Now families, foodies or even couples looking for a unique date experience can come try our chargrilled oysters at Ulele, sample locally brewed beer at Cigar City and shop for unique gifts at our duty-free and fine retail stores without having to buy a ticket.”

To get one of the TPA gate passes, you’ll do need to sign-up for a pass at least 24 hours before the Saturday you want to visit.

You’ll also need to choose which airside area you wish to visit. While 100 total passes will be issued each Saturday, they’ll be capped at 25 each for TPA’s A, C, E and F concourses. To choose where you want to hang out, consult this list of restaurants and shops at each airside terminal.

Visitors will be able to pick up and use their passes anytime between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. on the day of their approved visit. Passes can be picked up at the information kiosk on Level 3 of the Main Terminal. As with ticketed passengers, everyone will need a valid photo ID and everyone will have to go through security screening. Be sure to read the program rules for any other restrictions.

TPA follows  Pittsburgh International, and others

Tampa International isn’t the first U.S. airport to bring back this amenity.

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

PIT’s program has become quite popular, with between 50 and 100 people per day using the program in the winter and 150 per day in the summer, said PIT spokesman Bob Kerlik.

In November 2018, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport launched a temporary Visitor Pass program to allow non-ticketed visitors into the secure side of the airport. The pilot program ran through Dec. 14, 2018. During that time, 1,165 visitors enrolled via the online site.

The Port of Seattle which operates the airport, has said it would study the feasibility of continuing SEA Visitor Pass program at Sea-Tac.

No announcement has yet been made about if or when it might come back, but airport spokesman Perry Cooper says: “Users were very enthusiastic and we are exploring re-starting the program later this year.”

Other airports may be considering their own visitor pass programs.

“Other airports have reached out to us,” said PIT’s Bob Kerlik, though he declined to identify them. “I don’t want to say which ones, though, because I don’t want spoil anything they’re working on.”

Featured image: Courtesy of Tampa International Airport.

 

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