Tech HowTo: These Airports Let You Meet Your Family and Friends at the Gate

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I’m old enough to remember what it was like to go through airport security with my family so we could all meet Grandma at the gate—and now, thanks to new TSA-approved tourist passes, some airports are allowing passengers to recreate that experience.

As Bloomberg News explains, these passes were originally created as a way to increase “terminal tourism” (essentially, treating the airport like a shopping mall with planes attached). However, people quickly figured out the real benefit of this airport access:

During Seattle-Tacoma’s six-week experiment, the daily cap was 50 and about 1,100 people took advantage, most of them to surprise incoming passengers as they disembarked, said Perry Cooper, a spokesman. “People were super excited right off the bat.”

If you’d like to meet your loved ones at the gate, here’s what you need to know:

According to The Washington Post, there are currently three airports that let people go through security without a ticket:

The SeaTac example mentioned above was a six-week experiment that has now ended; Detroit is also running its Destination Pass as a pilot program (pun intended) with plans to end on January 5, 2020. The Washington Post notes that other airports, including Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, are considering adding similar passes in the future.

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If you want to visit one of these three airports, whether to escort a loved one to the gate, meet someone when they arrive, or visit Florida’s only Potbelly Sandwich Shop (yes, there’s just one Potbelly in the entire state and it’s in the airport), you’re going to need to plan ahead.

TPA requires you to claim your pass online at least 24 hours in advance; DTW only lets you apply for passes the day before you plan to visit the airport. PIT doesn’t offer passes online; instead, go to the airport the day you want to visit and find the myPITpass Ticket Counter on the third floor of the Landside Terminal.

Each airport only offers passes on certain days, and two of the airports limit the number of passes available (to prevent overcrowding).

All three airports allow minors to access these passes as well as adults, though they warn that minors must be accompanied by an adult at all times (which is pretty much what you’d expect).

TSA security rules still apply: no bottles of water, no prohibited items, and so on. Each of the three airports allows you to bring one personal item through security. PIT offers an Alternate Security Checkpoint for passholders, but it looks like DTW and TPA require you to go through regular security (and DTW notes that Clear and TSA Precheck holders won’t be able to use their designated lanes). All three airports warn passholders that during high-traffic periods, ticketed passengers will get priority in the security lines.

I would not be surprised if more airports start issuing these kinds of passes in the future. However, Bloomberg News notes that many airports are already overcrowded and adding more people might not be in those facilities’ best interests, even if all of the passholders buy at least one fancy airport Toblerone (or, if they’re in Tampa, a Potbelly Wreck).

So take advantage of these passes while you can—but if you’re going to meet a loved one at the gate, don’t surprise them unless you know they really, really, really like surprises.

Anyone that’s done much traveling can tell you the airports you fly to and from (and through) can…

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