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I have read elsewhere that it is a common strategy to buy a cheap (as cheap as $20) ticket in order to get access to the secure half of an airport, for the purpose of meeting someone at the gate. If this is so easy, why is it a requirement at all? It seems to simply be an intentional inconvenience and "fee", not to mention what it does to the planning and timeline of the airline that finds themselves under-booked.

  • @pnuts At these prices security and other fees are charged separately, so a $20 in reality will be quite a bit higher. – Karlson Oct 30 '14 at 17:23
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    If you buy a ticket, the airline has an opportunity to run your name through a check, which they wouldn't get if you just showed up at a security checkpoint. – DJClayworth Oct 30 '14 at 17:27
  • Besides besides buying a ticket you will need to check in for the flight. – Karlson Oct 30 '14 at 17:44
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    I don't know the answer but note that forcing people to buy a cheap ticket means that only very few will actually bother so even if it's not 100%, it does effectively limit the number of people you have to deal with. – Relaxed Oct 30 '14 at 17:45
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    It isn't necessary, at least in the U.S., to have a ticket to enter the secure area. The airlines recognize a number of legitimate reasons for non-ticketed passengers to go out to the gate, for example, to escort a child, or to meet a passenger who has language difficulties. You simply need to obtain a gate pass from the airline. – choster Oct 30 '14 at 20:24
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You have it backwards. Nobody from the airline is saying "if you want to get in the secure half, you have to buy a ticket." They are saying "the secure half is only for people who are flying somewhere today." People who want to get in the secure half even though they are not flying today don't want to be told they can't do that. (Whether they are bad guys including pickpockets and con artists, or good guys who want to accompany or meet someone, is not relevant.) Then someone realizes that in fact it's impossible to distinguish "people who are flying somewhere today" from "people who bought a cheap (or expensive but 100% refundable) ticket they don't intend to use."

There is no way this is a fee. (For one thing, the fully refundable version of the strategy costs you nothing.) The airline and the airport would both prefer that people who want to go to the secure half even though they are not flying would just abandon that want and stay out of the secure half. But people are people and have found a way around the rule.

Why do the airline, airport, and security folks have this as a rule if it's so easy to circumvent? Several reasons:

  • security theatre. The signs say that only people who are travelling are allowed through here. See, we're protecting you by not allowing the public in. Don't you feel safer?
  • genuine reduction. Not everyone knows the cheat. Some know but would never do it, they abide by the rule because they are rule abiders. This reduces volume of non flyers through security
  • a chance for checking - to buy a ticket and to get through the first checkpoint, the name in which you buy the ticket must be checked against the no fly list and your id (at least in the US) is checked to confirm that you are actually the person named on your ticket.

Is it perfect? No. Thieves and terrorists, who have something to gain by getting into the secure half, may be willing to jump through some hoops to get there. But let me close with this: can you think of a way to tell apart those who are flying today from those who have bought a ticket for a flight today? What would you change the rule to, in order to improve it?

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    @pnuts yes. Even after checking in you could, assuming you were the kind of executive flyer who reacts to things by flying, get a call at the gate saying "ooh, emergency, don't get on the plane" and you would therefore cancel your checkin and change or refund your flight. – Kate Gregory Oct 30 '14 at 19:28
  • The way I read the question, the OP understands all this but still wonders why this is a requirement at all, especially since it is so difficult to fully enforce. Said otherwise: Why do airports/airline have large areas where only passengers can go? In many countries, train stations used to be like that but became more open so it seems like a valid question. – Relaxed Oct 30 '14 at 19:29
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    something to keep in mind if you think this cheat is a great idea (and remember, it is a cheat) viewfromthewing.boardingarea.com/2014/07/01/… – Kate Gregory Oct 30 '14 at 19:30
  • It simply deters most people from taking this step to enter the secure area, reducing the number of people to process at the checkpoint slightly. You can also be a member of your airline's club, if they have one, and get a meeting pass if you arrange ahead of time. You can also get a gate pass in some instances for things like going back to collect something you left behind. – Michael Mathews Nov 5 '14 at 9:34
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I don't have any specific insight into this but my guess is that designating an area of the airport to be off-limit for people who don't fly is useful to manage things like security, duty-free shopping, waiting areas, etc. Otherwise, you would either need to (re)check everyone at the gate or pay for facilities (security check, cleaning, etc.) for a larger number of people. The link posted by Kate also suggests this became a requirement after 9/11 so it does seem to have something to do with security (or the cost and delays of the more stringent security checks introduced then). It also affords the authorities an opportunity to check your name against their databases (especially the infamous no-fly list).

Note that whatever the underlying reason, the requirement is in all likelihood very effective even if it cannot be fully enforced. Buying a cheap throwaway ticket and checking-in just to visit the departure lounge might be relatively “common” but I am pretty sure that many more people prefer not to cheat, do not bother or perhaps do not even think of it.

If there was no filtering whatsoever, those people might just hop in to meet a friend in transit, grab lunch, shop or whatever and you would have larger crowds to deal with in the secure area of the airport. In particular, if you would somehow allow everyone to go through the security check without actually wanting to fly, you would need even more personnel or create even longer delays at the checkpoint.

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