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These Airports Let People Walk to Gate Without Boarding Passes

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Passengers waiting for their flights at Ontario International Airport

Photo: Will Lester/MediaNews Group/Inland Valley Daily Bulletin (Getty Images)

Airports have struggled as much as airlines have since the pandemic started in early 2020. Fewer passengers on flights mean less foot traffic in the terminals. Less foot traffic means fewer potential customers for the retail and restaurant space beyond the airport’s security checkpoint. As a result, global airport revenue is down $60.8 billion, or 34.6 percent, compared to pre-pandemic projections. To increase foot traffic, a few airports in the United States have decided to experiment with letting people who aren’t taking a flight have access to their terminals.

Condé Nast Traveler has outlined the six airports with visitor pass programs: Flint-Bishop International Airport, Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, John Wayne Airport, Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and Ontario International Airport. The programs aren’t related but follow a similar template. Each visitor pass program requires the prospective pass-holder to apply with a government-issued photo ID and pass a background check. Accepted applicants then pick up their visitor pass on the day of, at a designated airport area and process through the TSA checkout like a passenger. Visitor passes are free, but the airports cap the total number of passes granted each day.

While there is a financial benefit for airports to operate visitor pass programs, there is nostalgia tied to being able to greet or say goodbye to friends and family at the gate. It was an aspect of commercial air travel believed to be lost with the creation of the Transportation Security Administration. It will be interesting to see if visitor pass programs expand to other airports around the country.

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