Can Non-Ticketed Passengers Get Through Airport Security?

What is a Gate at an Airport?

It is the area where passengers board to the aircraft. Gates generally have seats, a gate to enter the runway, jet bridge (for passengers to get into the aircraft) and the boarding desk. There are also signs and essential requirements in case of an emergency located within the gates. Passengers need their gate numbers to join the flight. 

Delta Air Lines

Delta offers escort passes to people providing assistance to travelers:

Individuals who are not ticketed for travel but need to provide assistance to a customer are allowed past security checkpoints. They must check-in at the ticket counter to receive a pass that allows them through security without a ticket.

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Delta requires parents or guardians to assist their unaccompanied minors, and gate passes are provided:

A parent or designated accompanying adult must take the unaccompanied minor to the departure gate and remain until the flight has left the ground.

[…]

A valid ID must be presented and signature captured of the person meeting the child. Delta will not release to anyone other than the person named. A parent or accompanying adult should report to the destination airport two hours before scheduled arrival to obtain a gate pass.

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Airport security has evolved over the years, and post 9/11 security tightened even further, transitioning into the rules and regulations we’ve come to know and expect every time we catch a flight.

Lately, however, it seems some airports are going back to basics.

Currently, three airports south of the border have tried allowing non-ticketed passengers at the gates.

In Florida, Tampa International is opening its doors on Saturdays from 8am to 8pm. There’s a catch, though. You have to be pre-screened the same way you would if you were boarding a flight and have it done at least 24 hours before you show up. Also: only 100 people will be admitted beyond the security check point per week.

Seattle International did a one-month trial last winter. From November to December, the airport allowed non-ticketed passengers (who had of course been screened) to visit the airport for leisure. The program was just a test, though 1,165 people participated.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh International has been offering gate access since 2017. It was the first in the states to do so. The airport has a program called my PITpass in partnership with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) which allows non-ticketed people to show up at the airport with government ID and get a pass to enter the facility between 9am and 5pm. Like the aforementioned airports, visitors must go through the same screening as flight-bound passengers, so no liquids, weapons, explosives, etc.

United Airlines

Here are United’s guidelines on unaccompanied minors and escort passes:

Flights departing from the U.S.: When you’re checking in at the counter, you can get a gate pass that allows you to go through security and to the gate with your child. When you get to the gate, introduce yourself to the United representative at the desk and tell them that your child will be traveling alone. Then, you can have a seat in the gate area to wait until it’s time to board.

Flights departing from airports outside the U.S.: A uniformed United representative will meet you and your child at the check-in counter. The representative will help your child through security and customs to the gate.

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If you are accompanying a military service member, you can request both gate passes and access to the United Club lounge:

We are pleased to invite active duty military members in uniform or with present leave orders or rest and recuperation papers to visit our United Club℠ locations on the same day they are traveling on a United- or United Express®-operated flight. Please present your military ID, your boarding pass and sponsoring documentation for entry. Access is available to active duty military members and family members with gate passes or traveling on the same flight as the military member and is subject to each location’s capacity and seating availability.

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Although I couldn’t find any specific language about getting an escort pass for an adult who needs special assistance, you can always contact United and ask—which I’d advise you do for any situation in which you can’t find clear policies on gate pass availability (if you’d like to meet a service member who’s arriving on a Delta flight, for example).

If you have additional advice on how to get a gate pass, please let us know!

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This post originally appeared in 2011 and was rewritten and republished on 11/13/19 to reflect current guidelines and policies.

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