Before going through security, you’ll need to scan your boarding pass to proceed. But what if you don’t have one? What if you just want to get to the airport terminal without flying anywhere?
In this article, we explain why you cannot go through security without a boarding pass (for the most part) and tell you in what situations some passengers are allowed to go through. In some airports, people can even cruise the duty-free stores and dine in fancy restaurants without having a valid airline ticket.
Why You Cannot Go Through Airport Security Without a Boarding Pass
Airport security used to be pretty loose, but since 2001, it’s been severely tightened to avoid potential terrorism threats. That’s why people without valid tickets aren’t allowed to go through airport security – so that no person from the outside could get in without having the intention of flying somewhere.
Another reason for not allowing people to go through is to reduce the lines at airports. If they’d start letting anyone in, the lines could become much longer and some people could miss their flights.
That said, some people are allowed to go further if they get a valid Gate Pass (other called Escort Pass), which lets them accompany someone to the departure gate even if they don’t have a ticket themselves.
How Far Can You Accompany Someone Without a Ticket?
Without a valid airline ticket, you can usually go inside the airport’s main terminal and get to the check-in desks/luggage drop-off desks. This means that you can accompany someone inside the airport, help them check in their bags, and leave just before they go through security. Some people also like to buy their airline tickets on the spot, which explains why airports let regular people enter the airport.
That said, during the COVID-19 pandemic, things have changed. Now, to limit the number of people indoors, most airports don’t let anyone inside an airport without a valid airline ticket. Usually, there’s an additional check at the front entrance of the terminal. If you want to purchase a ticket on the spot, you’ll just have to use your phone.
Can You Get an Escort Pass (Gate Pass) To Accompany a Friend or Family Member?
You can try getting a gate pass for accompanying a friend, but most likely you’ll be denied. You can do that by calling up the airline ahead or trying your luck at the check-in counters.
Gate passes are usually handed out only on occasions when someone needs to accompany a person who needs help, such as minors, the elderly, people with special needs, and so on. Airlines used to hand out gate passes pretty loosely, but they’ve been pressured by the TSA (Transport Security Agency) to not hand them out so freely due to security concerns.
When You CAN Go Through Airport Security Without a Boarding Pass
In some instances, you’ll be allowed to get through security without a valid airline ticket. That said, you’ll still have to follow all the security restrictions just like a regular passenger would. This means that liquids can only be in bottles up to 3.4 oz (100 ml) and all have to fit within a single, transparent, 1-quart-sized, sealable bag, no sharp objects, no firearms or explosives, and so on.
1. Accompanying Minors, the Elderly, and People With Special Needs
If you’re accompanying someone who needs special help, such as minors, the elderly, or people with special needs you can apply for a gate pass. This usually should be done several days before the departure by calling up the airline or emailing them. Usually, they have forms for gate pass applications on their website. The escort pass itself is usually free.
However, sometimes you might be denied, even if you’re accompanying someone who needs help. In those instances, the airline themselves will assign one of their employees to accompany them. Sometimes for additional fees and sometimes not, depending on the airline.
2. Families of US Military Service Members
If you’re a family member of a US Military Service member and want to accompany or meet him at the airport gate, you can apply for a free airport Gate Pass. The TSA generally allows handing out Gate Passes to Military Service family members, but they say that the procedures for applying are different for each airline and airport.
To get a gate pass, you should contact the airline your Military family member will be flying with, and ask them what’s the procedure for applying for one. Usually, it’s done at the check-in desks. The persons applying just have to go there and ID themselves to get a valid gate pass.
3. Airports That Allow You to Go Through Security Without a Boarding Pass
In the last years, a few airports have introduced “Visitor pass” programs, which allow people without a valid ticket to enter the airport. To get one, you don’t even need to be accompanying anyone. With them, you can do whatever you want to – shop in duty-free stores, access the airport lounges, dine in fancy restaurants, meet someone at the gates, or just experience the fast-paced atmosphere inside airports.
Usually, visitors are allowed to enter the airport only on specific timeframes (for example, from 8 am to 8 pm) and they still have to go through security to be scanned for dangerous goods. It’s a free service, but there’s a limited amount of visitor passes that each airport hands out each day. Usually, people have to apply for one at least 24 hours before, and they can do it on the airport’s website by filling out a form and providing identification details.
Here’s a list of airports that hand out visitor passes:
- Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. You can apply for the SEA Visitor Pass up to 7 days in advance and they hand out up to 100 visitor passes each day.
- Tampa International Airport. The TPA All Access program has been temporarily suspended due to the pandemic.
- Bishop International Airport. You can apply to the FNT Visitor Pass the day prior to your visit. You’ll be allowed inside the airport from 8 am to 6 pm, and you can apply only for one pass each month.
- Detroit Metropolitan Airport. You can apply to the DTW Destination Pass on the day prior to your visit on their website. You can use this pass from 8 am to 8 pm, and when you enter the airport, you’ll have to go to a dedicated “DTW Destination Pass” desk.
- Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. You can apply to the MSY Guest Pass no less than 24 hours in advance of your visit and you’ll be allowed inside from 11 am to 8 pm. Only 50 visitors are allowed on weekdays and 100 on weekends, and people can get only one visitor pass each month.
- Pittsburgh International Airport. Unfortunately, the Pittsburgh myPITpass program is currently temporarily suspended due to the pandemic.
- John Wayne Airport. You can apply to the John Wayne Airport’s Post-Security Access Pass only inside the airport on the date of your visit. You can enter between 6 am and 7 pm and you must exit the airport by 11 pm. Visitors can bring only one personal item, such as a purse or a backpack.
Unfortunately, in post-2001, it’s very hard to get through airport security without a valid airline ticket. You can get through only if you’re accompanying a minor, the elderly, people with special needs, if you’re accompanying a military service family member, or if you’re entering one of the few airports that offer visitor passes. That said, more and more airports are starting to offer visitor pass programs, which means that in the future, we might get through security very easy to access all the luxuries that airports have to offer.