We recently wrote about three airports (DTW, PIT, and TPA) that issue TSA-approved passes that allow individuals without tickets to go through security and visit the airport’s stores and restaurants. Though these passes may have been designed to promote “terminal tourism,” many people are actually using the passes to meet family and friends at the airport gate.
But several Lifehacker commenters noted that “gate passes” or “escort passes” are already a thing. If you want to accompany a child, elderly relative, person with special needs, or military service member to or from their airport gate, the airlines are ready to help.
These passes are generally issued by airline, not by airport, so here are six of the biggest airlines in the U.S. and their gate pass policies:
Escort passes are available for guardians and family members assisting unaccompanied minors:
The guardian, and those accompanying them, must obtain an escort pass from the ticket counter in order to escort the child passengers(s) to or from the gate. Up to 2 adults and all children, under the age of 13 years old, accompanying the child passenger(s) are allowed through the security checkpoint. Please arrive at least 90 minutes early to obtain these escort passes.
Passes are also available if you are escorting someone who requires special assistance:
- One or two adults, plus any children under age 13, will be allowed through the security checkpoint.
- Each non-traveling person must obtain a security pass from the ticket counter in order to be allowed access through the security checkpoint.
- Due to additional airport security, persons should allow up to two hours to obtain a security pass.
If you want to escort someone through security, visit the ticket counter:
Air carrier authorization forms for escorting people (minors, the elderly, etc.) through security are available at the airport ticket counter.
Delta Air Lines
Delta offers escort passes to people providing assistance to travelers:
Individuals who are not ticketed for travel but need to provide assistance to a customer are allowed past security checkpoints. They must check-in at the ticket counter to receive a pass that allows them through security without a ticket.
Delta requires parents or guardians to assist their unaccompanied minors, and gate passes are provided:
A parent or designated accompanying adult must take the unaccompanied minor to the departure gate and remain until the flight has left the ground.
A valid ID must be presented and signature captured of the person meeting the child. Delta will not release to anyone other than the person named. A parent or accompanying adult should report to the destination airport two hours before scheduled arrival to obtain a gate pass.
JetBlue’s rules for unaccompanied minors are somewhat convoluted, but the tl;dr is that you can request a gate pass to accompany your minor to/from the gate, with the following caveat:
Since guidelines vary among airports, please check the unaccompanied minor section under the specific airport the unaccompanied minor is traveling from to determine if a gate pass may be issued.
JetBlue’s policies for people escorting adults who require special assistance are much more straightforward:
A companion can provide disability-related assistance for you at a domestic US airport. A gate pass request must be made at the ticket counter for departing flights and noted in the reservation for arriving flights. Just make sure the person assisting goes to the ticket counter to get the gate pass and brings a valid government issued photo ID. Issuance of gate passes is contingent upon security conditions at the time of travel, at different times or locations this accommodation may not be available.
So are JetBlue’s policies on military personnel and gate passes:
Family members who want to accompany a military service member being deployed to the boarding gate or greet them returning from deployment at the arrival gate may receive passes to enter the secure area of the airport.
Non-passenger escort passes are issued to people accompanying or meeting any of the following passengers:
- An Unaccompanied Minor (children age 5 to 11 traveling alone)
- A person with a disability
- Young travelers under 18
- Family members of arriving and departing U.S. military service members who have been deployed or are being deployed
To get an escort pass, visit a Southwest Airlines Customer Service Agent at a ticket counter.
Here are United’s guidelines on unaccompanied minors and escort passes:
Flights departing from the U.S.: When you’re checking in at the counter, you can get a gate pass that allows you to go through security and to the gate with your child. When you get to the gate, introduce yourself to the United representative at the desk and tell them that your child will be traveling alone. Then, you can have a seat in the gate area to wait until it’s time to board.
Flights departing from airports outside the U.S.: A uniformed United representative will meet you and your child at the check-in counter. The representative will help your child through security and customs to the gate.
If you are accompanying a military service member, you can request both gate passes and access to the United Club lounge:
We are pleased to invite active duty military members in uniform or with present leave orders or rest and recuperation papers to visit our United Club℠ locations on the same day they are traveling on a United- or United Express®-operated flight. Please present your military ID, your boarding pass and sponsoring documentation for entry. Access is available to active duty military members and family members with gate passes or traveling on the same flight as the military member and is subject to each location’s capacity and seating availability.
Although I couldn’t find any specific language about getting an escort pass for an adult who needs special assistance, you can always contact United and ask—which I’d advise you do for any situation in which you can’t find clear policies on gate pass availability (if you’d like to meet a service member who’s arriving on a Delta flight, for example).
If you have additional advice on how to get a gate pass, please let us know!
This post originally appeared in 2011 and was rewritten and republished on 11/13/19 to reflect current guidelines and policies.