SEATAC — Before Sept. 11, 2001, it was perfectly ordinary to see people at the airport who weren’t there to travel, but to pick up or see off loved ones right at their gates.
Effective immediately, a newly launched program at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, will revive this practice. The program will allow 100 non-ticketed passengers through the airport’s security checkpoints each day, according to the Port of Seattle.
At a news conference Monday to announce the newly permanent SEA Visitor Pass program, Lance Lyttle, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport’s managing director, described it as a step toward “some degree of normalcy”; that is, it addresses one of many changes to American air travel that were implemented with tighter security in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks 18 years ago.
“I remember a time when we could go … to the gate to say goodbye to our friends and loved ones. I remember the time when we could go … meet our friends and loved ones at the gate,” Lyttle said. “After 9/11, all of that changed.”
The launch builds on a pilot program that was specifically set for a limited duration last year; more than 1,100 people took part. Lyttle said the latest version irons out some challenges that emerged during that time, including an onerous step that previously required visitors to pick up their passes in person before going through security.
Now, non-ticketed visitors can apply online for approval from the Transportation Security Administration; those whose applications are approved are then given a QR code that, when paired with a government-issued photo ID, allows entry through the airport’s Security Checkpoint 3. (Consistent with the policy for ticketed passengers, beginning next October, a Real ID-compliant form of identification or an accepted alternative will be required for non-ticketed visitors to pass through security.) Another adjustment is that visitors can now apply on the day they intend to visit, instead of having to apply 24 hours in advance, as was previously required.
The SEA Visitor Pass program will distribute 100 of the free passes daily on a first-come, first-served basis through the online sign-up portal. That number may increase in the future, says Lyttle. The passes can be used to enter between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. seven days a week, and visitors can stay in the airport until 10 p.m.
At the news conference, Lyttle spoke alongside Port of Seattle Commissioner Ryan Calkins, SeaTac Mayor Erin Sitterley and families that had participated in the pilot program.
Sitterley recalled the community she felt part of when picking up and dropping off her husband, a pilot for Alaska Airlines, over “many, many, many departures and landings.”
“There’s a whole generation of people … who have missed out on the connections that are made at our airport,” she said.
And though the program’s launch is intentionally timed to coincide with the busy holiday travel season, and a news release makes suggestions like using it to “[surprise] someone with flowers,” the passes are not limited to those picking up or dropping off passengers. Lyttle says anticipates the program will be popular with a different group entirely: aviation enthusiasts seeking prime plane-spotting territory.
“Some people really just love to watch airplanes take off and land,” he said.