You Can Now Go Through Security Even If You’re Not Flying at Two Major Airports

Passengers want to accompany friends and family to the gate. Airports want more people shopping and dining, they earn a percentage of the revenue at all the merchants at the airport. And by the way airlines usually share in this revenue, too.

The TSA wants to limit the number of people going through security. They also want to limit the bags they have to screen at the checkpoint.

Airlines have had some leeway, in some cases issuing passes for members of their club lounge programs to access meeting rooms even when not traveling although gate passes have become far more rare. I’ve certainly gone airside when not flying for airline events and even for some community meetings.

Most people have had to buy a refundable ticket, go through security, and refund the ticket if they wanted to be inside the airport without traveling that day — and doing so isn’t kosher.

A year ago Pittsburgh airport opened itself up to non-travelers during the business day (largely less peak travel times). This required checking in at the departures level, being run against the no fly list, and getting a stamped pass.

Seattle’s airport starts a similar Visitor Pass program today. Say goodbye to your child or loved one as they depart, meet friends and family at the gate, or just go plane spotting from inside the terminal if you’d like.

  • This is a trial that runs through December 14
  • Access is available Tuesday – Sunday, 8 a.m. – 10 p.m.
  • They’re limiting this to 50 people a day
  • You have to sign up online before 1:30 p.m. the day before
  • You’ll be notified by e-mail if you’re approved
  • You pick up your pass at the airport with photo ID


Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

Very few people go to the airport just for the restaurants — except maybe Tortas Frontera sandwiches at O’Hare — and most people probably won’t know about this sort of option. It does mean incremental revenue for businesses and the airport, and convenience for customers.

With major US airlines and American Express lounges moving to require a same day boarding pass for admittance it’s unlikely to lead to greater crowding of lounges or greater costs for rail drinks.

There’s literally zero security tradeoff, the only concern is long lines from a badly managed TSA, and Seattle is notorious for inefficient security screening.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Waits going through security are long enough as is without people bringing non-flying family through security. Last thing people want is a security delay that causes them to miss their flight.

  2. This is not really new or even news. Other airports allow you to accompany a child to a gate. Just When the child checks in ask get a pass for you. I know this has been done recently at IAD.

  3. Of course, disabled passengers are allowed to request that a non-ticketed person be provided a gate pass to assist them through and past security, and to remain with them until they board the plane for their flight.

    This is especially useful as it ensures that loved ones or close friends/companions who are disabled, or are of limited/reduced mobility and cannot easily walk long distances (anyone who has been to the “B”, or Delta’s side of JFK Terminal 4 will instantly know how far any gates beyond the SkyClub are, and especially those in the mid-to high 30s & 40s for its mainline gates there; let alone the Port Authority [depressing] bus station-like RJ gates at the furthest end of the “B” concourse, which are probably one full mile away – or pretty darn close to a mile given how long it takes to walk from end-to-end when not using the intermittent “moving sidewalks” there) can be assured of having someone available when they travel as wheelchair attendants often disappear quickly after dropping off someone at the gate, or sometimes even abandon a disabled person who is already seated in a wheelchair before even reaching security, and then leaving them to await a replacement attendant; other times wheelchair attendants fail to arrive at all and it helps to have someone around to either intervene on their loved ones’ behalf to have a wheelchair and/or an attendant provided before clearing security, or thereafter when loved ones are at their gate, and the attendant has left them there until minutes before boarding time (assuming the attendant returns), which means the disabled passenger is on their own if they need to use the bathroom, or wants to eat/drink and/or buy something at one of the airside concessions.

    However, we have found from our own extensive experience dealing with a variety of airlines (my partner is disabled due to Polio he had as a young child), that having a non-ticketed escort using a gate pass makes a world of difference in that it completely eliminates the problems that otherwise all too often occur when he flies alone for work (or even when we travel together) including interminably long waits for a wheelchair and/or an attendant to arrive.

    In fact, on one occasion, when I could not accompany him to JFK Airport for one of his somewhat frequent (4-5 times per year) transcons to LAX and/or SFO for a Delta flight operating at a distant gate at its T4 (as they often do! Only once was the gate towards the headhouse end of the very, very, loooooooooonnngg “B” concourse…), he waited so long despite arriving well more than 2 hours prior to departure time for an attendant to be provided, that it required calling the airline’s disabled/special services number to intervene on his behalf to get an attendant provided, and to have his flight held at the gate as the final boarding call had already been announced while he was still landside, pre-security.

    And it was only late last year when I was there to accompany him for another flight using a gate pass that yet again the wait for an attendant at JFK T4 (now in that atrocious corral/penalty box/holding pen airlines have set up at large airports such as JFK T4 and United’s Terminal C at EWR) was so long that after repeated polite requests to have an attendant provided in a timely fashion, that I asked to speak with the supervisor for the third party contractor that Delta uses at JFK T4 (and its T2), to get the matter resolved.

    I did it all very politely – but having worked at JFK Airport in years’ past for long term consulting assignments at two others of the stand alone passenger terminals at JFK (T1/7), several airlines’ cargo facilities, and one of the largest and well known food and beverage concession operators with operations at several terminals there, I also made sure the supervisor knew that I worked at the airport in the past, and I was very familiar with the fairly small universe of key vendors that are commonly used by the airlines (or the joint-venture companies that manage several terminals there), along with the names of people that own/manage those companies, including the one he worked at (even if the name of the company itself had been changed).

    So, once that chat was concluded, not only was a wheelchair attendant provided quickly, but so too was a TSA Agent who escorted us through security immediately and like rock stars (we really didn’t expect that – but hey, we didn’t mind our one and only time being given the rock star treatment 😉 ) and thereafter were quickly escorted onto an awaiting golf cart-like vehicle that whisked us to his gate (which of course, was at the far, far end of the “B” concourse [as in even past the “2nd” Shake Shack].

    So, the point is this: the best way to ensure loved ones and close friends/companions who are disabled, or unable to traverse large and busy airports on their own due to age or other limited mobility, are NOT neglected or abandoned when they fly, is to obtain a gate pass, which the US DOT Air Carrier Access Act requires airlines to provide (even if counter agents falsely claim that is not allowed, or feign ignorance of those federal regulations).

    On its web site, Southwest states gate passes for a non-ticketed/non-travelling escort may obtained for (domestic) arrivals, too, to meet and accompany disabled/reduced mobility passengers.

    And I believe this provision of the ACAA allowing for a non-ticketed/non-traveling escort to obtain a gate pass to assist disabled/reduced mobility passengers who are arriving aboard domestic flights on all airlines for domestic flights, and all airlines, domestic and foreign, for those select cities that offer Pre-Clearance for international arrivals that use domestic gates (for example, Dublin, Shannon, Toronto, etc.) is available, too.

    However, my partner has never asked me to meet him at the gate for his arriving flights when he flies for work, so I cannot offer any useful tips based on first-hand experience obtaining gate passes when one is not accompanying a ticketed passenger to the gate.

    But, I will offer this as something to keep in mind for others, and especially those who are completely immobilized, or whose health is such that long walks in general, and especially epically long, (near or exceeding) one mile walks like those at some of the furthest JFK T4 “B” concourse gates will be, and they cannot possibly risk being left alone to fend for themselves on the many occasions when wheelchair attendants fail to show up (or not enough attendants are provided) as so often happens on the arrivals side of a flight at many airports (especially at the biggest airports and/or major connecting hub airports such as BWI): our airlines often “forget” about disabled/reduced mobility passengers on the arrivals side of any flight, so if your needs, or the needs or loved ones is such that their health and well being is at risk if a wheelchair and an attendant is required when they use airports, or of course, if anyone is completely immobilized and in need of assistance to get around airport terminals, then I strongly recommend seeking a gate pass to assist those who otherwise will be at risk of being subjected to long waits for assistance, or neglected, or abandoned whenever possible (departing and arriving) as especially for arrivals, most airlines, even the ones we like to believe are the “better” ones such as Southwest, often disappoint greatly by leaving their disabled/reduced mobility passengers in the lurch.

    So, those gate passes are a good way to protect loved ones from a wide variety of unpleasant situations that we, personally, have encountered over the years regardless of airline flown (they will all disappoint at times; it’s just that some airlines disappoint only occasionally, while others more often are problematic in how they deliver assistance for their disabled/limited mobility passengers – or of course, there’s airlines like “Always Awful” and “Avoid Always” [American] which “adopted” the US Airways “model” we experienced at that airline before it morphed into the AA of today, which then, and until a truly horrible incident in Spring 2014 resulted in thar airline being put on our “No Fly” list along with the ULCC’s) for those who are even more mobility limited than my partner who knows he can call me to get a chair and attendant provided when they fail to be provided, or has his cane at the ready when wheelchair assistance is not going to be had.

    And again: do NOT let counter agents fib, or feign ignorance of knowledge that disabled/reduced mobility passengers are entitled to request a gate pass so that a non-ticketed/non-traveling escort may assist them post security (our experience is that they often do fib/feign ignorance of ACAA provisions at all airlines except Southwest)!!!

    Just ask to speak to their supervisor. And if that yet still fails, we long ago learned to have screen shots of the US DOT ACAA regulations at the ready before entering the terminal for check-in/bag drop.

    Or just say “may speak with the CSO, please?”

    That should break through the bs…

    Just be sure to note that any non-ticketed/non-traveling escorts requsting a gate pass must have a valid, goverment issued photo ID and undergo the same security screening – so no contraband, and in the gun happy states, be sure to leave your toys …er 2nd Amendment guaranteed self defense weapon … in the trunk or glove box of your vehicle! 😉

  4. ADDENDUM: those gate passes for non-ticketed/non-traveling escorts especially come in handy for the occasional last minute gate change(s), too, as this immediately eliminates the need to await arrival of an attendant to assist with the ride to the new (and nearly aways furthest away) gate (and back, as has also happened!), or to await the gate agent calling for wheelchair attendant to transport a disabled/limited mobility passenger to the new gate, or at some airports call for a motorized transport to get everyone to a new gate (which is stressful enough when that happens for most, and that much more so for those who simply cannot gather the possessions and race across the terminal to a new gate when those pesky last minute gate changes are announced.

    So again, gate passes likely will be a Godsend for loved ones who face mobility challenges that most others don’t face when they fly – to get around the terminal … use the bathroom … or really, to have someone they trust to be by their side literally when “stuff” happens, and even when things seem to be going well, to have a loved one or close friend/companion at the gate to keep them company for however long it takes until their flight departs!

  5. As long as they 5.60 per person like everyone else I think it’s a good revenue generator for the airlines. Better yet maybe they can offer groupons for bulk admittance. Flash mob party at G18

  6. Omg Howard Miller how do have this much time to write a response three times as long as the post?

    Great reply btw.

  7. I’ve known about this for the disabled/minors. This is a great idea though. Some airports have really great restaurants. It would be nice to eat at them when I’m not trying to catch a flight.

  8. CORRECTION!

    Towards the bottom of my first readers’ comments post the correct term is “Complaint Resolution Official”, or “CRO” for short, and NOT “CSO” as written.

    My apologies for the error and any confusion it may have caused.

    So, in the above, if one is in need of assistance when flying due to a qualifying disability or other impairments that reduce/limit mobility, and is having difficulty obtaining a gate pass for a non-ticketed/non-traveling escort/companion even after kindly requesting to speak with the supervisor of a counter agent who (falsely) claims they’re not allowed to provide gate passes, or feigns ignorance on being allowed to offer gate passes to a non-ticketed/non-traveling person as requested by a disabled/reduced mobility passenger to/from their gate is still being told they’re not allowed to accompany/meet the person who is flying, then just say:

    “May I please speak with your/the airline’s CRO?” as every airline must have one, or the functional equivalent supervisor empowered to resolve any disputes for disabled passengers regarding compliance with the ACAA, available either via telephone or in person during the airline’s operating hours.

    These are the provisions of the US Department of Transportation (US DOT) per the Air Carrier Access Act, or ACAA.

    And the ACAA applies to all domestic airlines for all of their flights, domestic and foreign, as well as all foreign airlines’ flights that begin or end in the USA.

    Yes, very often one will be told otherwise, especially upon their first request with a counter agent – but as long as one makes clear they’re aware of the provisions as allowed by the ACAA to obtain gate passes to assist disabled/reduced mobility passengers, then the airline cannot deny issuing a gate pass to a non-ticketed/non-traveling escort/companion unless that person is on some sort of “no fly” list for other reasons, or is unable to meet the other standard requirements such as a valid, government issued ID, etc. (as in no liquids, contraband, sharp objects/other weapons), required to clear security as if one were flying.

    But, other than that, one must be offered a gate pass if a disabled/reduced mobility passenger requests to have an escort/companion accompany them airside at airports for departures and domestic/pre-clearance international (e.g., Dublin, Shannon, Toronto, etc.) arrivals.

    Obviously, arrivals that require clearing customs and immigration will require airport certified personnel to assist disabled/reduced mobility flyers until they exit sterile/secure areas in the arrivals hall.

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