Air Canada found itself in hot water in June 2014 when an attendant left famed violinist Itzhak Perlman and all of his baggage on a scooter at an elevator en route to Toronto Pearson International Airport's Passport Control area. Southwest Airlines also made the headlines in August 2014 when 85-year-old Alice Vaticano missed her flight from Newark to Denver because a wheelchair attendant left her somewhere between the check-in counter and her departure gate.
While no one should ever be left alone by a wheelchair attendant, these cases highlight the benefits of getting an airport escort pass and point out some of the drawbacks of current airport security protocols. In Alice Vaticano's case, a family member or friend could have accompanied her all the way to her gate by obtaining an escort pass from Southwest Airlines. Itzhak Perlman, on the other hand, was completely dependent on his airport-provided attendant because he had not yet cleared Passport Control.
Someone was waiting to meet him at the Passport Control exit, but that person could not get an escort pass to meet Perlman at his arrival gate because US customs regulations restrict access to arriving international passengers.
What Is an Escort Pass?
An escort pass is very similar to a boarding pass. An airline check-in agent can issue an escort pass to someone with a government-issued photo ID who wishes to accompany a minor child or a person with a disability, age-related or not, to a departure gate. Airlines also issue escort passes to someone who needs to to meet minor children or persons with disabilities at a domestic arrival gate. Escort pass holders must clear airport security and comply with the same regulations as an airline passenger.
Escort passes are not the solution to all gate-related problems, but they do allow family members to take their minor children, grandchildren, and relatives with mobility issues or disabilities to departure gates. Some airports and airlines will also issue escort passes that allow you to meet incoming passengers at their arrival gates.
Important: Escort passes are never issued for people meeting passengers on incoming international flights in the US, due to customs and immigration regulations.
Who Needs an Escort Pass?
Anyone taking a child or grandchild or accompanying a relative or friend with a disability to a departing flight or who is meeting someone who falls into one of these categories should consider requesting an escort pass.
Note: Passengers arriving from another country will have to go through Customs and Immigration before you can meet them. An escort pass will not give you access to that part of the airport. If your loved one or friend needs assistance clearing Customs, consider arranging for a wheelchair attendant to meet him or her at the arrival gate.
How Do I Get an Escort Pass?
It is usually easy to get an escort pass. Simply go with your relative or friend to the check-in counter, request a pass and present your photo ID. You can call ahead to get escort pass information, but you will probably be told that issuance of escort passes is determined locally by each airline.
Where Can I Go With an Escort Pass?
Your escort pass will allow you to go through airport security screening with your loved one or friend and accompany that person to the departure gate. If you are picking someone up from a domestic flight, you will need to go through the airport security checkpoint before meeting that person at the arrival gate.
You will not be able to go into the Customs and Immigration hall if you are picking up a passenger who is arriving from another country.
What Happens If I Can't Obtain an Escort Pass?
You may not be able to get an escort pass when you get to the airport. Plan ahead for this possibility.
If your friend or loved one needs wheelchair assistance or will need it if you are not given an escort pass, call the airline(s) in question at least 48 hours in advance and ask to arrange wheelchair service. Important: Be sure to mention that your loved one or friend is elderly, has a disability or is a minor.
Give your friend or family member a pre-programmed cell phone if they do not have one of their own. Include emergency contact numbers, airline ticketing telephone numbers and your own contact information in the contacts list. Be sure to provide the number for the airport police. Write out the steps to call you and to telephone for emergency assistance. Give this document to your family member or friend.
When you arrive at the departure airport, park your car and accompany your family member or friend to the check-in counter. If you have arranged for a wheelchair attendant, be sure the attendant is there before you leave the terminal. Consider tipping the wheelchair attendant in advance; wheelchair attendants usually do not earn minimum wage because their employers expect that attendants will receive tips from airline passengers. Monitor the flight's progress online to be sure the airplane has departed on time.
Do not leave the airport until the flight has taken off.
If you are meeting someone at the airport and cannot get an escort pass, station yourself as close as possible to the arrival gate and wait. Contact the airline and airport police if your loved one or friend does not arrive in a reasonable amount of time, particularly if you notice the arrival of other passengers from the same flight.