Tampa Airport To Commence Saturday Gate Pass Program

After a near billion-dollar makeover which included 70 new outlets, Tampa International Airport will allow a limited number of non-travelers to visit airside shops and restaurants with a Saturday gate pass.

Tampa International Airport
A dish from The Cafe by Mise En Place at Tampa International Airport. Image Source: Tampa International Airport.

For the first time since 9/11, airport visitors with no tickets, no plans to fly, and not accompanying minors will be allowed airside at Tampa. The airport becomes the third in the US to try the program. The first was Pittsburgh International Airport in 2017. The second, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, gave access to over 1,000 visitors during a pilot in 2018.

Near billion-dollar terminal improvements

Tampa International Airport, Florida, spent $971 million over a three year period to improve its main terminal. It’s added a 1.4 mile-long SkyConnect train and a 2.6 million square foot rental car center. It has also added tons of new restaurants, bars, shops, and spas, according to the Tampa Bay Times this week.

The airport has added local brands such as Mise en Place, Goody Goody, RumFish Grill and Ducky’s, but local residents haven’t been able to visit. Tampa International Airport chief executive officer Joe Lopano says:

“The problem was, the people who were really excited about it said, ‘Hey, wait a minute: I can’t go out the airside to try out that restaurant. What’s up with that?’”

Tampa International Airport.
The Cafe by Mise En Place at Tampa International Airport. Image Source: Tampa International Airport

A limited number of gate passes for Tampa

The airport has developed the new program along with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) creating an “all access” pass. Beginning May 4th, 25 people will be able to visit each of the four Tampa airport terminals to eat, shop, watch planes or accompany flyers before boarding, reports Fox 13 News. Airport spokesperson Emily Nipps says every Saturday the airport will “allow up to 100 people to apply for a pass to come over to our airsides.”

Numbers are limited so as not to cause delays for those who are flying. Tampa International Airport’s vice president of operations and customer service, John Tiliacos, confirmed if the program works the airport will “look to expand it.”

Security and bag rules will apply

All-access pass holders will be allowed to visit airside between 8 am and 8 pm, but they will still have to go through security. The same bag rules will apply as if they were traveling. And, to be granted a pass visitors must sign up online at least 24 hours before. Visitors will be checked against the US federal no-fly list.

Nipps adds:

“We really expect this to be popular with people who live in the area who want to come over and maybe experience a different Ulele, or a different Columbia restaurant, or come to the only Potbelly Sandwich Shop in Florida.”

New "all access" passes available on Saturdays.
New “all access” passes will be available on Saturdays. Image Source: Tampa International Airport

CEO Lopano hopes this move will say, “we heard you”, to those who felt left out of the airports key development. He adds that people can “sample locally brewed beer at Cigar City or shop for gifts” at Tampa. Shoppers will be able to make purchases at duty-free stores but not buy alcohol or tobacco.

Since opening for registration this week, the Saturday gate passes at Tampa airport are already popular according to reports. The Tampa Bay Times also confirmed that Seattle-Tacoma International Airport may restart its similar program this year.

Meanwhile this week, Florida-based Silver Airways entered its first ATR-600 plane into service. It is the first US carrier to operate the craft. And, last month, Seattle’s Paine Field Airport opened.