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 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 as of last month, Ontario International Airport, a hub located 35 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, launched its version of an airport guest pass, reminding us that these programs still exist at several airports throughout the country.
The new ONT+ Visitor Pass program allows unticketed guests to obtain a visitor pass, which they can use to pass through TSA security checkpoints and either spend more time with friends and family before they depart or greet them when they land. ONT+ is also meant to simply make the bars, restaurants, and retail stores in the terminal’s upper departure levels available to the nontraveling public.
“We all remember the excitement of being able to meet arriving family and friends as they get off the plane. ONT+ is a way to bring back some of that experience from decades ago, in a safe and secure manner,” stated Dean Brown, the airport’s public safety administrator.
To get an ONT+ Visitor Pass, nontravelers 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. The email verification, together with a TSA-approved photo ID, can then be used to enter the security checkpoint (a printout of the ONT+ Visitor Pass will not be accepted). ONT+ visitors will be subject to the same security screening regulations as air travelers and will not be allowed to bring any items prohibited by TSA through security.
Other U.S. airports that allow unticketed visitors through security
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
This article was originally published in November 2018, and was updated on November 1, 2022, to include current information.