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Some Airports Now Allowing Sightseers, Shoppers and Diners to Go Through Security

By Kelly Hoggan

Airports in Detroit, Pittsburgh and Tampa all feature many fine shops, stores and restaurants.

The terror attacks of 9/11 resulted in many rule changes when it came to U.S. airport security. For example, after 9/11 guests of air travelers generally weren’t allowed to accompany them past TSA security checkpoints. Instead, air travelers had to bid goodbye to their guests before they entered security and headed to their flights. Today, however, a few airports allow non-ticketed individuals to go through security and into their concourses, where many shopping and dining experiences beckon to them.


Limited Reach at Present


Even after 9/11, airports could let certain non-passengers go through security, though few facilities chose to do so. At Detroit Metropolitan Airport, for instance, guests staying at the McNamara Terminal’s attached hotel could go through TSA checkpoints and visit shops, stores and restaurants in the gate areas. All other non-flying individuals, though, were prohibited from airport concourses. But with the rollout of the ‘DTW Destination Pass’ program, which will run through January 5th of 2020, up to 75 passes per day are available to non-flyers wishing to visit concourses. The airport will evaluate the program’s success after it expires and decide whether to make it permanent.


Such non-flyer access programs as Detroit’s are still rare and only a couple of other major airports currently allow visitors access to secure gate areas. In May 2019, Tampa International Airport’s Saturday only ‘TPA All Access’ program joined the ‘myPITPass’ program at Pittsburgh International Airport in allowing visitors past TSA security checkpoints. Pittsburgh’s program, which began in September of 2017, grants the public same-day access to the airport’s Airside Terminal for shopping and dining.


Application Rules Apply


Non-ticketed visitor passes at all three major airports currently offering public access are issued in accordance with security rules enforced by the Transportation Security Administration. Except for Pittsburgh, which allows walk-up applications from 9 AM to 5 PM on weekdays only, visitors must apply online 24 hours in advance. Also, anyone requesting an airport visitor pass will have their names vetted and their identities verified before access privileges are granted. Additionally, all visitors must go through an airport security checkpoint and observe the same rules as passengers boarding flights. Lastly, passes at all three airports are one-time and same day only, and new passes must be obtained for any future visits.


Increasing Airport Business


Major airports such as Detroit’s, Tampa’s and Pittsburgh’s all offer a wide variety of dining as well as shopping experiences, and many highline shops and stores can be found in their secure concourses. Allowing non-flying visitors to shop and dine in airport gate areas, after proper vetting, can only be looked at as a win-win proposition for both airports and their visitors. Businesses in those concourses also see an increase in customers and airports gain in goodwill from the many non-flyers just wanting a unique dining or shopping experience, as well as to see airliners in operation. If visitors adhere to airport and TSA security rules there doesn’t seem to be any downside in allowing non-ticketed visitors to see all that airports today have to offer.

Kelly Hoggan, Founder and CEO of H4 Solutions, previously served as assistant administrator for operations at the Transportation Security Administration. In that role, he was responsible for aircraft and checkpoint security operations at the nation's 400-plus commercial airports.

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