I am expecting a 21-yr old exchange student from Brazil at the Atlanta airport. She's flying domestic on Southwest from New York, where she's being put on the plane by the exchange program after a week of orientation. She has very little English and no cell phone and has never been to the United States.

Normally I meet people outside the secured area either at baggage claim or at the one place where all passengers leave the secured area. However I'd like to meet her at the gate because

  • to ease any anxiety she has navigating the world's busiest airport
  • so she doesn't get lost finding the exit, which involves finding the underground train and taking it to the correct stop
  • so I don't accidentally miss her in the throngs of people exiting the secured area every time the train arrives at the exit

Is there any way to get a gate pass? I can't find any information on the Southwest or ATL websites that don't address minors.

  • 4
    Buy the cheapest ticket for a departure that day, go airside with it, meet the student then throw away the ticket and exit together? – Gagravarr Jun 30 '15 at 16:49
  • @Gagravarr, nice one. – Gayot Fow Jun 30 '15 at 16:52
  • That's a very... creative solution. I'm considering it, but it's 10 days away and the cheapest flight I can find is $450 – Scott Jun 30 '15 at 16:55
  • 2
    There is a VIP service in ATL that will do meet and greet -- you can even request a Portuguese speaker. They can arrange gate access with about a day's notice beforehand. It may compare favourably to the ticket strategy Gagravarr proposed. Or it may not. – Gayot Fow Jun 30 '15 at 17:22
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    I would call Southwest Customer Service, which I have found vastly more helpful than other carriers'. – Andrew Lazarus Jun 30 '15 at 18:03

The usual process is simple enough, and free. Have someone like a parent or whoever bought the ticket contact the airline and give the the name(s) of whoever you want to meet the passenger. That person(s) goes to the ticket counter and picks up the gate pass then goes thru security just like normal. We are doing this today - my wife and I - at Atlanta to help our two grandchildren get on the plane and settled it. We did the same thing a week ago when they were getting off the plane. Their parents had called Southwest and had both of our names put on the OK-give-them-gate-passes list. It went zip zip zip.

  • So FYI this only works for minors, not anyone over 18 – Scott Nov 9 '16 at 17:54
  • Doesn't work for international, according to this. – steampowered Sep 30 '19 at 15:47

You may ask for a gate pass from the check in desk, which will enable you to go airside. However, it is really supposed to be for escorting people to the aircraft, not collecting them from the aircraft. Therefore, I would call the airline to discuss it now.

Option 2 is to buy a fully refundable ticket for the day in question. Once you have got airside and met up with the person, exit the zone, tell the ticketing desk that you have changed your mind, will not be flying today and wish to action a refund. There may be a fee of 20 USD or so for this.

  • 3
    Although it's not applicable here, airlines are definitely used to issuing gate passes for persons collecting unaccompanied minors at landing. – Andrew Lazarus Jun 30 '15 at 18:02
  • 1
    @GayotFow: The link you give doesn't work, but the Google cache shows this answer is not copied from it. Both your link and this answer offer the same two (fairly obvious, IMHO) suggestions, but the wording is completely different. I think it's clear that they were independently written. I would suggest that you should delete your comment. – Nate Eldredge Jul 5 '15 at 15:38

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