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 who gets through. In some cases they’ve issued 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 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.
Two and a half years 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. Here are details on the program.
Copyright: boscorelli / 123RF Stock Photo
Since then other airlines have gotten in on the action. A year ago Seattle Airport test their own program during the 2018 holidays. In six weeks 1165 people used the program. Now that program is returning permanently. You can sign up here.
Visitors are able to apply for a pass online by 1:30 p.m. the day prior to using it. Applicants were then subject to approval by the TSA, and receive a notification on their status by midnight of the same day.
Passengers will be allowed to enter through the airport’s secure area at Checkpoint 3. Up to a 100 visitors will be allowed per day, between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. seven days a week.
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport
Tampa and New Orleans offer similar programs, too. Ultimately 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 departing boarding pass for admittance it’s unlikely to lead to greater crowding of lounges or greater costs for rail drinks.