A handful of airports allow visitors to go through airport security to visit internal parts of the airport even if they aren’t traveling.
When I was a kid, airports weren’t nearly as locked down as they are since the Sept. 11 attacks. There was no elaborate airport security screening process. I remember going with my folks to the Columbia Metropolitan Airport and being able to visit whatever modest shops and restaurants were there.
I also remember an observation desk where you could stand outside and watch planes taking off and landing. That was a cool thing for a kid to see.
By being able to visit the airport and see how things worked (at least from a distance), I had a pretty good idea of what to expect when I took my first flight during a field trip in about second grade. We flew via Eastern Airlines (remember them?!?) to Charlotte and back. It was a short trip, but it was very educational to see how airports and airplanes worked.
These days, airports are very different places. To get to most of the shops and almost all of the restaurants inside, you have to face members of the Transportation Safety Authority.
Most TSA agents are nice enough, though a few still appear a bit gruff. They have a set way they want you to empty your pockets and your bags. That set way seems to change a little every time I fly. I always find myself getting fussed at for some breach in protocol. I honestly wish they’d make up their minds about belts. Do I have to it them off or not?!?
But most importantly, the first two items the TSA checks are your ID and your boarding pass.
No boarding pass, no entry.
That is slowly changing at a handful of airports
Orlando International Airport is among the latest to allow non-passengers back into the various terminals, travel site AFAR reports.
A handful of airports in Michigan and California, along with Seattle, Tampa and Tulsa offer similar programs.
In some ways, I suppose it’s a nice perk to be able to dine at an airport restaurant or browse in an airport store, though I find everything for sale at airports outrageously overpriced.
The best reason for the access, of course, has nothing to do with shopping or eating. The option allows you to spend more time with departing loved ones or meet arriving loved ones that much sooner.
That would be worth the extra effort of requesting that access.
And yes, it’s extra effort
Assuming all of the airlines operate the way Orlando’s does, you don’t just show up at the airport to do as you wish. Afar reports you must request an access pass within seven days of your planned visit. TSA will then let you know if they approve you for that access. At Orlando’s airport, the pass allows visitors to enter one specific terminal between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and must leave by 8 p.m.
The visitors face the same restrictions actual travelers do. They still must go through the TSA checkpoints. They can’t bring anything that the air passengers can’t bring. TSA agents will still demand their ID as well as the printout of the email granting them access to the airport.
I imagine they will face the same scolding over whether airport security rules like belts have changed yet again since their last visit. Or whether to take off their jewelry or leave it on. (If a penny in their pocket will set off the alarm, why would a ring on their finger not set off the same alarm?)
But the effort would definitely be worth it to be able to spend extra time with someone leaving or someone just arriving. It’d be nice to have a loved one meet me at an airport terminal. Since TSA, arriving at the airport isn’t the end of the journey. The journey ends after a final madcap dash to wherever the pickup area for arriving passenger is. Hopefully, you time it so that the person picking you up is making another circle through the pickup area (since airport people won’t allow anyone to wait on anyone).
As for shopping or dining, no offense to shops and restaurants inside airports, but I don’t see that as worth the hassle to get there.