Pittsburgh International Airport

Detroit Metro Airport gate pass program permanent

Courtesy Detroit Metro Airport

Gate pass programs expanding

The pilot DTW Destination Pass program at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW) which allows non-ticketed passengers past the security checkpoint began in October and was supposed to end this week.

But so many non-ticketed visitors are interested in visiting DTW airport to shop, dine, check out airplanes and spend more time with friends and family starting or ending their travels that airport officials have decided to keep the program going indefinitely.

“We understand that our facility is more than just an airport—it is a place where memories are made,” said WCAA CEO Chad Newton, “One participant of the program shared with us that she was able to bring her 3-year-old nephew to the airport to greet his parents and see airplanes for the first time.”

The DTW Destination Pass program is limited to 75 visitor passes per day. Passes can be used from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Check the DTW website for details about applying for a pass.

Where else can you get an airport gate pass?

DTW is just the latest airport to welcome non-ticketed passengers past the security checkpoint.

Art at SEA airport

In December, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) brought back and made permanent the SEA Visitor Pass program, which gives non-ticketed guests access to the secure side of the airport.

Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) started the trend by introducing the myPITPass program in August 2017. That program operates Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Tampa International Airport (TPA) began offering its All Access pass in April, 2019, welcoming guests on Saturdays.

Photo La Gourmetreise, Courtesy New Orleans & Company

And Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY) began welcoming non-ticketed guests into the new terminal on December 4.

The MSY Guest Pass is offered seven days a week, with a limit of 50 visitors Monday through Friday and 100 visitors on Saturdays and Sundays.

Visit the New Orleans Airport without a ticket

Gate pass program at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport

As promised, the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY) is joining the list of airports that invite and allow non-ticketed guests airside, past security to shop, dine, listen to live music and spend more time with friends and family leaving for trips or coming home.

The free MSY Guest Pass program kicks off December 4 and will be available seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.  MSY officials say the airport will issue no more than 50 passes on weekdays and no more than 100 passes each Saturday and Sunday.

Anyone seeking an MSY Guest Pass will need to sign up 24 hours in advance and provide their full name, date of birth and contact information. Visitors under 18 will need to be accompanied by an adult.

Pass holders must still pass through the security checkpoint and all pass holders will be limited to one visit per month.

Leah’s Kitchen at MSY

MSY is justifiably proud of its shiny new terminal, which has branches of local shops such as Dirty Coast and Fleurty Girl and restaurants from award-winning chefs, including Emeril Lagasse, John Folse, Michael Gullotta, Susan Spicer, and the late Leah Chase and her family.

We expect more airports to join this trend, but for now just a few other airports offer gate passes to non-ticketed guests: Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) has the MyPITpass program and Tampa International Airport (TPA) offers an All Access gate pass program.

Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW) is testing a gate pass program now through January 5.

Have you applied for a gate pass at one of these airports? If so, tell us how it worked.

Airport news from Seattle, Denver & San Francisco

Good news for passengers during this busy travel season.

As the busy holiday travel season kicks into gear, we’ve gathered up some airport news that may make your journey as wee bit smoother.

Concert at Sea-Tac Airport

At noon on Friday, November 22, Washington State native soul and R&B singer Allen Stone, will perform a live show in Central Terminal featuring songs from his new album, Building Balance.

The performance will be live-streamed Sea-Tac Airport’s Facebook and will celebrate the expansion of the already robust live music program at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Skating at Denver Airport

Friday is also opening day for the ice-skating rink at Denver International Airport (DEN).

Located on the outdoor DEN plaza, between the main terminal and the Westin Hotel, the rink will be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily through January 20.

There’s no fee to skate. And there are free skate rentals as the on-side “Skate Shop” Airstream trailer near the ice rink.

The ice rink will feature music daily and host special activities and performances on the ice throughout the skating season including Colorado Avalanche Ice Patrol, Denver Figure Skating Club, E-Gals Ice Crew, curling lessons, little tykes’ hockey and more.

Holiday Open House at Pittsburgh Airport

Pittsburgh International Airport will its annual open house this year on Saturday, December 7 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Open to all who register, the in-terminal event features shopping and dining specials, live music, kids’ entertainment and visits with Santa.  Registration closes December 4.

Here’s a rundown of the entertainment:

  • Juggler: 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. 
  • Balloon Artist: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. 
  • Touch-A-Truck: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. 
  • Face Painting: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. 
  • Children’s Museum Activity: 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. 
  • Lovebettie: 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. 
  • Photos with Santa: 12 p.m. – 4 p.m. 
  • Caricature Artist: 2 p.m. – 5 p.m. 
  • Airbrush Tattoo Artist: 3 p.m. – 5 p.m. 
  • The Pittsburgh Pirates Pierogies: 3:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. 

SFO Airport pilots premium Uber pick-up

To reduce congestion at curbsides, in June 2019 San Francisco International Airport (SFO) moved domestic terminal pickups for ride-hailing services Uber, Lyft and Wingz away from the terminal curbside to the 5th floor of the Domestic Hourly Parking Garage, with pickups in the International Terminal at the center island of the Departures level roadway.

Now, just in time for the holiday travel season, SFO has kicked off a two-month pilot program with Uber to offer a premium curbside pickup option for travelers.

Passengers who choose a premium Uber product, including Uber Comfort, Uber Select, and Uber XL, Uber Black and Uber Black SUV will be picked up curbside at designated locations in each Domestic Terminal: Terminal 1 at Door 9; Terminal 2 at Doors 5 and 6; Terminal 3 at Doors 12 and 13.

Pickups at the International Terminal will continue in the current location, which is at the center island of the Departure level roadway.

Passengers choosing (basic) UberX and Uber Pool in the Domestic Terminals must still go to the domestic hourly parking garage for pickup.

Airports going off the grid

Should airports go off the grid? Pittsburgh Int’l Airport – and others – think so.

Aerial view of Pittsburgh International Airport. Courtesy PIT Airport

Remember that 11-hour power outage at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in December 2017?

The blackout canceled hundreds of flights, stranded thousands of passengers and cost Delta Airlines alone an estimated $50 million in lost business?

Since then power outages linked to everything from equipment failures, faulty wires and an explosion at an electric power station have disrupted operations at numerous airports.

The list includes Washington’s Reagan National Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, New York’s LaGuardia Airport, John Wayne Airport in Orange County, CA, Philadelphia International Airport and McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas.

And just last Saturday, power at the New Orleans International Airport went out – twice – due to high winds associated with Tropical Storm Olga.

In addition to flight cancelations and delays, a celebratory open house for the new $1 billion terminal opening November 6 had to be postponed by a few hours.

Microgrids to the rescue?

During power outages at airports, generators and other forms of back-up power usually kick-in to power essential emergency lighting. But boarding, deplaning, airfield activity and the business of the airport often come to a standstill.

That’s just one reason Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) recently declared its intention to become the first major U.S. airport to create a self-sufficient energy system – or microgrid – using only energy sources (solar and natural gas) from its own property.

“After watching what happened in Atlanta and Los Angeles, I think every airport CEO across the country, and probably around the world, wondered if they were ready and prepared,” said PIT Airport CEO Christina Cassotis.

“Here the answer is yes, but we’d like to make sure we can continue to operate in any circumstance,” she said,

To that end, Pittsburgh International Airport plans to have its microgrid in place by 2021 to power the entire airport, including the airfield, the on-site Hyatt hotel, and a Sunoco station.

Power for PIT’s microgrid will be generated through the airport’s onsite natural gas wells and almost 8000 solar panels covering eight acres of the airport land. A connection to the traditional electrical grid will remain, but only as an option for emergency or backup power when needed.

“It has everything to do with resiliency and redundancy,” said Cassotis, “We wanted to make sure we could do everything with the assets we have to enhance the safety of the traveling public and ensure continued operations. As a bonus, we get to lower the cost of energy.”

Many military facilities, college campuses, hospital complexes, industrial parks, and other large institutions already have some sort of microgrid in place to ensure uninterrupted power.

In general, these systems are connected to existing grids but can disconnect and operate on their own with power from batteries, diesel-powered generators or, ideally, solar or another source of renewable power, said Craig Schiller, a Manager specializing in aviation at the global energy non-profit Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI).

Detroit Metro Airport (DTW) already has a microgrid in place. Airports in Los Angeles, Denver, San Diego, Boston, Orange County, CA and elsewhere are now exploring and creating microgrids as well.

To help move the process along, early next year RMI will publish an airport microgrid toolkit funded by a $450,000 grant from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s Transportation Research Board.

Microgrids can give airports greater control over the energy they need and use and, in many cases, save airports money on energy costs, said RMI’s Schiller, “But the bottom line is maximizing an airport’s ability to meet its function.”

TWA Hotel is a microgrid island


Most microgrids are designed to connect to existing power grids.

But the 512-room TWA Hotel and conference center opened in May 2019 in the landmark Eero Saarinen-designed TWA Flight Center at JFK Airport’s Terminal 5 is an “islanded microgrid” operating independently of New York City’s electric grid.

The hotel has its own 9,000-square-foot microgrid/cogeneration power plant on the roof, fueled by natural gas.

The plant generates all the electricity for the hotel campus and harvests waste heat from engines for hot water and other uses. A battery storage system helps with peak loads and backup.

“Think of it as a Tesla on the hotel’s roof,” said Tyler Morse, chief executive of MCR/Morse Development.


“The entire city and the airport could be down, but the hotel would still be operating, with people having cocktails at the bar,” said Mike Byrnes, Senior Vice President for Veolia North America, which has operators on duty 24/7 to operate and maintain the hotel’s microgrid.

Beyond ensuring that cocktails can continue to be served during a blackout, the TWA Hotel’s power plant will also contribute to the business’s bottom line.

Hotel developer Morse said the Con Edison electric bills would have cost $5 million per year. “The $15 million we spent to build the plant will be paid back in three years,” said Morse, “And we’ll be saving $4 million annually.”

Which should be enough to buy everyone a round of drinks, or three, in the lobby bars in the next New York City blackout.

(My story about Airport Microgrids first appeared on CNBC in a slightly different version.)

Now 3 airports offer gate passes to non-ticketed passengers

Another airport invites non-ticketed passengers to hang and visit

You can do it a Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) and you can do it at Tampa International Airport (TPA)

Now Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW) will let you do it too.

Detroit Metro Airport now allows non-ticketed passengers to spend time on the post-security side of both the McNamara and North terminals.

The “DTW Destination Pass” program allows non-flying ing guests to come to the airport to shop, eat, check out the art, planes pot, people watch, escort a friend or family to their gate or be there when a loved deplanes. 

“The new regulations allow us to expand our gate pass program that already exists for our Westin hotel guests,” said Wayne County Airport Authority CEO Chad Newton in a statement, “Now we can welcome more community members into our home to create memorable moments—from watching planes to greeting family and friends.”

DTW’s Destination Pass program isn’t permanent (yet) but is being piloted through the holidays with an end date of January 5, 2020.

Here’s how it works:

From Tuesday through Sunday, up to 75 non-ticketed passengers will be able to enter the secure side of both DTW terminals from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Visitors will need to apply for a pass through the DTW website the day before their planned visit. Applicants will get an email notification letting them know if the application has been approved. If approved, detailed instructions will be sent electronically.  

Pass holders will need to go through the same security screening as all other passengers going through the security checkpoints. During peak checkpoint times, passengers heading to flights will get priority over pass holders at the checkpoints.  

After their visit, pass holders will be asked to fill out a survey.

When the pilot program is done, “Wayne County Airport Authority will be evaluating the use of the program, along with the airport’s cost to provide this service. We will also be reviewing the completed participant surveys,” said airport spokeswoman Lisa Gass.

Other airports invite non-ticketed visitors as well

While DTW’s Destination Pass is being piloted, the gate-pass programs at Pittsburgh International Airport and Tampa International Airport are permanent.

Pittsburgh International Airport kicked off the trend with the “myPIT Pass” program in August 2017. The program operates Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Non-ticketed passengers may apply for a pass by showing a U.S. government-issued photo ID at a special counter in the terminal.

Tampa International Airport (TPA) introduced its TPA All Access Pass in April 2019. TPA’s pass allows non-ticketed guests who apply at least 24 hours in advance to visit one of four airside areas of the airport each Saturday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. There is a limit of 25 people per airside.

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) tested a gate-pass program for a few weeks during the 2018 holiday season and had 1,1650 people take advantage of the program. The decision to bring back the program on a temporary or permanent basis is still under review.

According to Transportation Security Administration spokesperson Lorie Dankers, before any airport can offer a gate-pass program to non-ticketed fliers, the airport must submit a formal proposal to the TSA to amend the local airport security plan. If TSA approves the plan, an airport is permitted to invite non-ticketed passengers past security.

So perhaps we’re seeing the beginning of a trend.

(My story about airport gate passes first appeared on USA TODAY in a slightly differing form.)