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.)
This article was originally published in November 2018, and was updated on September 14, 2023, to include current information.
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Traveler satisfaction with North American airports climbed this year despite numerous challenges from an ongoing pilot shortage to record passenger volumes.According to the J.D. Power 2023 North America Airport Satisfaction Study released Wednesday, overall satisfaction improved by 3 points to 780 on a 1,000-point scale. The rise was propelled by improvements in three key areas, including terminal facilities, food and beverage and retail service and baggage claim.The study, currently in its 18th year, examines overall traveler satisfaction with mega (33 million or more passengers a year), large (10 to 32.9 million passengers a year) and medium (4.5 to 9.9 million passengers a year) North American airports across six factors, including terminal facilities; airport arrival/departure; baggage claim; security check; check-in/baggage check; and food, beverage and retail.The big winners among North American airports were Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (800) Tampa International Airport (832) and Indianapolis International Airport (843), which ranked highest among mega, large and medium airports, respectively. 2023 marks the second straight year that Tampa and Indy have won their respective categories.
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