Prior to the pandemic, a slowly growing number of U.S. airports had started allowing visitors to do something they used to be able to do regularly in the pre-9/11 era of air travel: meet and mingle at the terminal gates, see their friends and family take off, or welcome loved ones with a warm embrace right at the gate, regardless of whether they were flying anywhere.
The trend of allowing approved visitors without a boarding pass to venture past security (or airside as the postsecurity gate area is sometimes called) was put on the back burner as airports weathered the pandemic storm. But over the past year, these programs have started to crop back up again at several airports throughout the country with Orlando International Airport (MCO) in Florida the latest to launch its version of an airport guest pass.
The new Experience MCO Visitor Pass program, which was unveiled earlier this month, allows unticketed guests to obtain a visitor pass that they can use to head through TSA security checkpoints and either spend more time with friends and family before they depart or greet them when they land. The MCO Visitor Pass is also meant to simply make the bars, restaurants, and retail stores in the airport’s recently unveiled new Terminal C more widely available, including to the non-traveling public.
To get a MCO Visitor Pass, non-fliers need to fill out an online application within seven days of their visit. Visitors will be notified via email if they have been approved for a pass and will be allowed to enter Terminal C on their designated pass day between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., and must leave by 8 p.m.
For all of these programs, an email verification, together with a TSA-approved photo ID, is used to pass through the TSA security checkpoints at the designated airports and terminals that offer the service. Those with a visitor pass are subject to the same security screening regulations as air travelers and will not be allowed to bring any items prohibited by TSA through security. (Note that many airports allow some unticketed travelers to pass through security to, for instance, bring an unaccompanied minor to their gate, or assist a family member with a disability. But this is different than the visitor pass programs, which do not require a specific reason for entry, and are intended to allow guests to also access and enjoy the services and amenities that are available in the terminal.)
Other U.S. airports that allow unticketed visitors through security
- Bishop International Airport in Flint, Michigan: The FNT Visitor Pass at Bishop International Airport (FNT) is available Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Registration is required for all visitors, including those 17 and younger, who must be accompanied by an adult.
- Capital Region International Airport in Lansing, Michigan: You can access the LAN Visitor Pass at Capital Region International Airport (LAN) for up to four hours a day, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. The program is limited to 25 visitors per day.
- Detroit Metropolitan Airport: This Midwest airport rolled out its version, the DTW Destination Pass, in 2019.
- John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California: In 2021, this Orange County hub embraced the trend with the launch of the OC AirPass. The pass is available for Terminal A, B, or C from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., daily, allowing visitors “to shop, dine, watch planes, view art exhibits, and greet friends and relatives when they arrive at the gate or accompany them before their flight,” according to the hub.
- Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport: In 2019, the New Orleans airport developed the MSY Guest Pass, which allows the nonflying public to indulge in all of the dining and retail venues of this relatively new $1 billion terminal. The pass is available seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
- Ontario International Airport in California: Located 35 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, Ontario International Airport (ONT) launched the ONT+ Visitor Pass program last October. To get an ONT+ Visitor Pass, nontravelers need to fill out an online application within seven days of their visit and will be notified via email if they have been approved for a pass. The ONT+ Visitor Pass is available daily for visiting Terminal 2 and 4.
- Palm Springs International Airport: The new PSP Stay and Play Pass at Palm Springs International Airport (PSP) in California is available on a first-come, first-served basis, seven days a week. Once approved, you can head to the TSA checkpoint at your designated entry time.
- Seattle–Tacoma International Airport: In fall 2018, Sea–Tac developed a SEA Visitor Pass program. The program was put on pause not long after launching but has since started back up.
- Tampa International Airport: The TPA All Access Pass is available at this Florida hub every day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. for up to 25 people daily.
- Tri-Cities Airport in Pasco, Washington: At the Tri-Cities Airport (PSC), up to 10 people each day can reserve a PSC Pass.
- Tulsa International Airport: Non-fliers can reserve a TUL Visitor Pass up to seven days in advance. Entry is permitted on the day of use starting at the approved entry time and until 9 p.m., and approved visitors can exit and re-enter anytime during the day.
This article was originally published in November 2018, and was updated on September 14, 2023, to include current information.