Remember the good ole’ days?

Airports are a great many things, but at the very core they’re emotionally charged places. They reconnect us with loved ones, friends and family, and send us away to parts unknown. And that’s without even getting into the emotions of delays, cancellations and occasional upgrades. Those who experienced travel prior to the unspeakable tragedies of September 11th, 2001 remember a day when you could accompany someone to the boarding gate, or better yet surprise them at one, whether you were traveling or not. For 17 years now, those days have been long gone, but two airports are leading a charge to change that – and they just may…

Airside Passes

Post 9/11 the only way to pass through security without a valid same day ticket is via an airside pass. These passes are issued at the airline, airport or government’s discretion, on a need only basis and require an advanced background check. These passes are used to facilitate photoshoots, employee access to sensitive areas and other every day airport operational needs. The TSA and other governing agencies, such as the UK’s CAA have robust systems in place to authorize and vet access, and days are coming where these passes could see wider use.

The Airports

Pittsburgh made headlines in 2017 with the announcement of special gate passes, making it the first post 9/11 airport to offer airside terminal access to non travelers. Yep, you can go through security without a plane ticket again. Prospective visitors pass simple background checks, fill out a request form and present photo identification on the day they plan to go airside. Assuming all those things work out, they can then take someone to the gate, or wait for a domestic arrival. Those romantic airport scenes are coming back. Seattle is now trialling a similar program, limited to 50 airside guests per day, making it the second and most major airport to aim for a triumphant airside return.

Major Benefit

Want great food or bars in airports? You need people. Traveling to an airport will always be a niche market, but the concept of a proper send off, or warm welcome could greatly improve the various offerings passengers find in terminals. There will be more of a “lets do dinner” concept than a “how close can I cut it” style of travel, if and only if passengers can be joined airside by loved ones. Passing an extensive background check makes each airside pass visitor no more or less dangerous than any ticketed passenger, so really – it’s all upside. Will others follow?

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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1 Comment

  1. It’s a positive development though just a teeny, tiny baby step. There’s a long way to go before we should rekindle our fond past memories! 🙂 Knowing the DHS/TSA bureaucracy and risk aversion, I’m skeptical this will expand meaningfully anytime real soon.

    Restricting the security checkpoint to ticketed passengers was more about limiting TSA workload than security. Keep in mind, the 9/11 hijackers were all ticketed passengers and IIRC most if not all of them traveled under their true ID.

    The background check under these pilot programs is a farce and just part of the Security Theater. So long as a person and their belongings are properly screened for weapons, explosives, and incendiaries, their ID and background is irrelevant. Even TSA admits this – every time there is a news report of someone going through the TSA checkpoint without an ID check and/or without a BP, TSA announces that the person wasn’t a threat – despite the lack of ID and/or BP – because they were properly screened (and they’re correct!)!

    But in any case, will keep my fingers crossed that more airports start to open up like this.

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