Detroit, New Orleans Latest Airports Allowing Visitors Past Security

2 years, 40,000 users later, myPITpass continues to influence industry

By Rick Wills

Published November 8, 2019

Read Time: 4 mins


The McNamara Terminal at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport opened in February 2002, nearly four years after breaking ground.

But the pairing of a design from the pre-9/11 era with security procedures instituted after the terror attacks caused a fundamental problem – parts of the airport built to attract the non-traveling public were underappreciated and underused, officials said.

“The airport was built as a mall. It was something the public had been asking for and has never fully been used,” said Debra Sieg, security chief at the Wayne County Airport Authority.

That’s why last month DTW opened areas beyond security to non-ticketed passengers on a trial basis. It’s one of just a handful to follow the lead of Pittsburgh International Airport, which two years ago became the first U.S. airport to allow non-passengers through security after 9/11. Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport also recently announced a similar program for its new terminal, which opened earlier this month.

In those two years, more than 40,000 passengers have used the myPITpass program at PIT, whether to shop, eat, view art installations or greet loved ones the moment they step off a jetbridge.

“We have a huge meet-and-greet crowd here, people who like to meet their friends and relatives right at the gate,” said Samantha Stedford, director of customer experience at the Allegheny County Airport Authority, which operates PIT.

More than 40,000 passengers have used the myPITpass program at Pittsburgh International. (Photo by Beth Hollerich)

Many airports have elements that appeal to visitors beyond the TSA lines, a factor that has been somewhat forgotten in an era of tightened security. Even the Washington Post has noted the growing appeal of concessions beyond security.

“We heard from people who wanted to shop, people who wanted to bring their kids to the airport,” Stedford said.

Motown music tunnel

At the Detroit airport, for example, a sleek 700-foot light tunnel separates two concourses and features tunes by The Temptations, The Supremes and Stevie Wonder. Why, airport officials asked, should a display featuring the best of Detroit be restricted to travelers only?

The same was true at PIT.

Beyond security at Pittsburgh, there is an Andy Warhol exhibit, a robot repair exhibition and The Sky Beneath Our Feet, a 69,000-square-foot terrazzo artwork under a glass floor that includes Pittsburgh landmarks like Heinz Field, the Smithfield Street Bridge, the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning and the Carrie Furnaces.PIT also has focused on getting local brands into the terminal, including Primanti Bros., Sarris Candies, Penn Brewery, Local, Wigle Whiskey and more, all a draw for the more than 100 myPITpass users the airport sees each day.

In May, Tampa International Airport introduced its TPA All Access Pass, which allows non-ticketed guests who apply at least 24 hours in advance to visit one of four post-security areas of the airport each Saturday. There is a limit of 25 people per terminal.

“It’s kind of limited, but popular. We heard about Pittsburgh’s program and decided to try something like it,” said TPA spokeswoman Emily Nipps.

Like Pittsburgh, Tampa has people who want to meet or bid farewell to friends at the gate, Nipps said. The airport also wants to open its increasingly varied food options to the public; one surprising hit in Tampa is the airport’s Potbelly restaurant – the only Florida location of the Chicago-based sandwich chain, Nipps said.

TPA serves 22 million passengers each year, while Detroit’s serves 35 million – both considerably busier than Pittsburgh’s nearly 10 million. That’s part of the reason why both airports’ programs are more restrictive than PIT’s, which has not had to limit the number of myPITpass users.

Will more airports open up?

Officials at John Wayne Airport in Orange County, Calif., have asked PIT about the myPITpass program, Stedford said. Yet aviation officials say they are not sure how many airports are likely to follow.

“Airports in Chicago, New York and Atlanta, where so many people change flights, may not want extra people roaming around,” Nipps said.

At Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, non-passengers were allowed past security for a trial run last year. Officials there say they might make the program permanent.

In ways, allowing non travelers past security is a step back to the past, said Stedford.

“People used to bring their kids to the airport to look at planes take off. Many people remember that,” she said.

The myPITpass program does not require advance sign-up but users need a valid, government-issued identification, such as a driver’s license or passport. Users are subjected to the same background checks and TSA security process as ticketed passengers.

The myPITpass counter is located on the ticketing level in the Landside Terminal across from the Allegiant counter. The program is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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