Imagine you could just show up at the airport, walk through security without a boarding pass and hang out and enjoy the amenities of the airport. This is now possible at Seattle International Airport and a handful of other airports throughout the country (TPA, MSY, PIT, DTW) with so-called visitor passes.
Sea-Tac is the first major airport offering visitor passes to the public on the west coast. After running a trial period at the end of 2018, the Seattle Port Authority announced at the end of last year, that the visitor pass is now a permanent program offered at the airport.
How do you get a SEA Visitor Pass?
Requesting a visitor pass is super simple. Go to the official website of the airport and fill out the form. Only a handful of information is required to get you going. One hundred visitors are approved for any given day.
They even allow you “last-minute” visitor pass requests. That means you don’t have to wait a day or a week to get confirmation. Just fill out the form and if you want to go the same day, you are supposed to get your confirmation e-mail within 15 minutes. If you request a different day, you will receive the confirmation e-mail at midnight before visiting.
I submitted my request for a visit on the same day. Two confirmation emails were sent to me simultaneously and just seconds after I submitted my request. The first one is a confirmation that the airport received the request about a visitor pass. In the second email, you get your confirmation which includes a QR code for the security personal to scan. As mentioned earlier, if you select a different day other than the day of submitting the request, the final confirmation will be sent to you at midnight before your visit.
How to use the SEA Visitor Pass?
Before you go
All you need to get through security is your confirmation email. There is no need to print out the QR code, just have it ready on your phone and bring a valid government-issued I.D. which is accepted by the TSA. Remember that you have to go through security and you can only bring items through security which are officially allowed by TSA. Treat it as you would take a regular flight.
At the airport
You can only use the SEA Visitor Pass at security checkpoint 3 between the times from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. However, you might stay as late as 10 p.m.
One downside of the visitor pass program is, that you have to use the general screening area. No expedited screening lanes are honored with the visitor pass.
At the airport, I got in line for general screening. Oh boy, was the line long and slow-moving! This makes me really appreciate my TSA PreCheck status. I showed the gate agent my I.D. and the QR code of my visitor pass. Just let him know that you will be using the visitor pass, as he has to scan it with a separate device. But the worse is yet to come. I looked like a complete idiot as I forgot to take off my shoes. I didn’t even notice that everybody else did it already and just before it was my turn to get through the full-body scanner, a TSA agent told me to remove my shoes. How embarrassing! Flying over 60 flights every year and then looking like I have never been to an airport before. Again, this makes me appreciate my TSA PreCheck status so much more.
My backpack made it through the scanner just fine, as I basically had only my camera and my jacket in it. The primary reason was to do some plane spotting besides testing the visitor pass.
Once you get through Checkpoint 3, you will be in the Central Terminal which offers amazing views of the airfield via the iconic glass wall.
What can you do at the airport?
I gathered my belongings and was off to the terminal. The visitor pass gave me the chance to explore parts of the airport I usually don’t use because I am not flying out of that part or don’t use any of the lounges in the area if there are any.
Here are a few examples for what you can use the visitor pass
- Spend more time at the gate with family or friends
- Surprise your arriving service member at their gate (for domestic arrivals)
- Bring your family to watch planes come and go
- Participate in the Celebrations at SEA events
- Have a great meal in a restaurant or bar
- Pick up a gift at the airport’s boutiques
- Attend a live music performance
- Go on an art tour with STQRY Art App. Get a guided tour of SEA Airport’s art collection and other local museums and historic sites.
Can’t do that…
- Board a plane: Obvious, as you need a valid boarding pass to get on any plane
- Use the lounges: All the lounges require nowadays a same-day boarding pass, which you don’t have if you just use the SEA Visitor Pass.
For me, this was a great opportunity to spend time at the airport without the pressure of checking bags and getting to my gate. You probably think now, you can just arrive super early and hang out. True, but at Sea-Tac the earliest check-in time, if you have bags, is 4 hours before your flight. They won’t allow any earlier check-in than that. I hope this changes with all the upgrades Sea-Tac is doing.
Of course, I did bring my camera. I hang out around the big windows throughout the terminal to snap pictures. The best place to spot the wide-body aircraft is the South Satellite. All major international flights arrive and depart from there. From the windows of the satellite building, you get a good view of the planes being refueled and restocked with food and other amenities.
Peter has a passion for Traveling, Photography, and Geocaching. These are the best ingredients for amazing adventures all over the globe. “Traveling is fun, no matter if you stay in a luxury hotel or travel like a backpacker.” Peter shares his experiences on his Blog www.gatetoadventures.com
Some of Peter’s photos are published on corporate websites, in-flight magazines, travel guides, and much more.