I'm going to be meeting a relative at ORD (Chicago O'Hare) on a flight tomorrow. It's his first flight, and he is on the autism spectrum; he's old enough to not be an Unaccompanied Minor, as well. The airline is United, if relevant. I don't have status with United (or any other ORD airline).

Is it likely to be able to receive a gate pass to meet him at the gate? For a smaller airport I wouldn't be too worried, but ORD is such a monstrosity I'm concerned he may be overwhelmed by the number of people and size. He's from a semi-rural small town, and isn't used to crowds.

If it is a possibility, what's the best route to take to get the most likely "yes"?

  • Hi Joe! This is a really interesting question. I'm hoping there's a disability option due to your relative's legitimate challenge. I have a friend in the same dilemma but she doesn't travel in big airports. I look forward to answers! Would you be kind enough to spell out ORD, just once? The tag says Chicago, but I don't know which airports are there. I apologise for my ignorance, people here probably know exactly what it is! Thanks! – Sue Saddest Farewell TGO GL Jul 10 '19 at 21:12
  • Done, will update. Thanks! For your further context, O'Hare is one of the three busiest airports in the US most years, and is sprawling with four terminals and 9 concourses, using shuttle busses to go from one to the next (there is a train, but it's out of service right now for upgrades). – Joe Jul 10 '19 at 21:20
  • Could you clarify what you mean by 'he is on the spectrum' please? – user90371 Jul 10 '19 at 21:31
  • Sorry, autism spectrum. – Joe Jul 10 '19 at 21:51
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    Thanks for the edit and information! Yikes, that's huge. With my anxiety disorder I could never do it! I'll pass this on to my autistic friend. Your relative is very brave, and you are so kind to make it easier for him! – Sue Saddest Farewell TGO GL Jul 11 '19 at 18:15

I'd say it's fairly likely. I've never done it at ORD, but I've received gate passes from United at other airports without much in the way of questions. You might want to phrase it as a gate pass "to help my son with a disability" or something similar, as airline staff usually are told not to pry too deeply into the nature of someone's disability.

United has a lot of ticket counters at ORD, so if someone gives you a hard time, you could even try walking to the next bank of counters and asking a different employee there.

You will need photo ID though. Note that if he's arriving on an international flight (not from a preclearance airport), this won't be possible, since he'll have to go through immigration and customs, where you won't be allowed. If this applies to your situation, the airline may be able to provide an escort or other assistance. You can call the accessibility desk at 1-800-228-2744 for specific help from United.

  • Just to clarify, how recently have you received one? My searching around suggests things may have tightened up around 2016-ish, when they did away with the United Club gate passes. – Joe Jul 10 '19 at 21:51
  • @Joe I've done it maybe once since they did away with the access for Club members (I used to more often). I hope someone else has more recent anecdotal experience for you. – Zach Lipton Jul 10 '19 at 22:06
  • I had no trouble getting a pass to meet an elderly passenger. – Andrew Lazarus Jul 10 '19 at 23:19
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    Definitely call the number above. They should be able to put a comment in the record regarding his "disability" (like that term or not, as Zach says, it works in cases like this!) At Chicago, you should have the passengers flight details including PNR, and then go to the customer service desk and explain the situation. – Doc Jul 11 '19 at 2:46
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    I think they're called "escort passes" now, but an airline agent should know what you mean either way. – Michael Hampton Jul 11 '19 at 3:50

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