Points, miles, and snide remarks.


I Tried Out the Visitor Pass Program at TUL. It Didn’t Exactly Go Smoothly.

Update 11/15/2023: TAIT wrote me back via email. They have apologized for inconvenience and shared a customer service number for any issues with visitor passes. That number is (918) 838-5090. My hope is that the airport will update their instructions with this information, as I was unable to find it online. I’ll try again someday relatively soon when I have the time to make the trek out to the airport without a flight to catch.

In a recent post, I explored the revival of visitor pass programs at US airports, a throwback to the pre-9/11 days when non-ticketed folks could roam freely through the sterile area, or meet loved ones at the gate (though now with some guardrails and vetting beforehand). My home airport, Tulsa International Airport (TUL), launched such a program this year, but I’m there often enough as a ticketed passenger that I hadn’t really felt a need to try the new program out for myself.

That changed yesterday. I’ve been all over the state of Oklahoma this week, including (but not limited to) a day trip to OKC, and an evening back at my alma mater in Stillwater watching the Cowboys narrowly lose to Abilene Christian in basketball. Luckily cheap(ish) rental cars are still a thing if you know where to look, so I snagged one from Avis in an effort to limit the mileage I was putting on my personal vehicle. Upon returning my rental car, I realized I’d be facing significant rush hour traffic to get home, so I decided to wait traffic out and give the very creatively-named TUL Visitor Pass Program a whirl and watch the evening departure/arrival bank go in and out of KTUL. Spoiler alert: it didn’t quite go as expected.

The application process seemed straightforward enough. The airport claims to process same-day applications within 15 minutes, and advance applications shortly after midnight on the day of your visit. So, armed with optimism, I filled out the necessary details on my mobile device while wrapping up my business with Avis. Legal name, date of birth, gender – the basics for a quick background check against the TSA Secure Flight database. You choose a one-hour timeslot in which you expect to arrive at the TSA checkpoint. You also need a valid email address, as that’s how you’re supposed to receive your pass (more on that in a sec). The program is totally free-of-charge, so no need for credit card details.

The program does limit participants to 100 guests per hour, but we’re not exactly talking about Taylor Swift concert tickets here. Even during the day’s busiest timeslot, there were still 91 visitor passes up for grabs. The airport’s promotion efforts are a bit lackluster, with only digital signage near the TSA checkpoint, urging loved ones to not “say goodbye just yet” and flaunting a QR code to apply on-the-spot. It seems the general public isn’t fully aware that this visitor pass option exists at all.

Even though you’re not catching a flight, the system generates a Passenger Name Record (PNR) number for you, which appears to be internal to the airport. This seems to be a precaution against any potential hiccups with TSA’s Credential Authentication Technology (CAT) machines.

Now, here’s where the issues begin. Despite the promise of a 15-minute processing time, I received no email response, not even in my junk folder. Patiently, I explored the airport’s recent updates to the landside facilities while I waited. As TUL lacks any lounges, the airport lends itself to cutting it extremely close; I usually find myself rushing to the gate, rolling up around group 5 or 6. It had been a while since I’d been bored enough at TUL to give the landside facilities a proper exploration, and there’s been a remodel since then. As the top of the hour neared, meaning the end of the window I’d selected, I decided to reapply for the next timeslot using an email account on a totally different provider. Yet, the result remained the same – no response, not even in the dreaded junk/spam folder.

I don’t think it’s at all plausible that I was outright rejected. I’ve been a longtime TSA PreCheck member, and just underwent another round of vetting by Uncle Sam for Global Entry. The only trusted traveler programs I’m not part of are SENTRI/NEXUS, so I think it’s safe to say I’m not on any lists with TSA or DHS. It’s plausible that the web app responsible for issuing visitor passes isn’t properly configured with an SMTP server for firing off confirmation emails. Alternatively, the FAQs do imply that each application may be manually reviewed by the TSA; maybe they had more pressing matters on their plate, prioritizing ticketed passengers over pass-seeking visitors.

I eventually ended up throwing in the towel and retrieving my personal vehicle from the airport parking facility. Could I have used a fully-refundable ticket to enter the terminal if I’d really wanted to? Of course I could have. But aside from returning my rental car (and test-driving the visitor program), I really didn’t have a compelling reason to be there, so I didn’t find it to be worth the effort of giving Southwest a (very) short-term loan. I’ve seen what’s on the other side of that TSA checkpoint countless times, and it’s not going anywhere. Maybe if there’d been a lounge, I would have thought differently.

In an attempt to get some clarity, I reached out to the airport for a comment. As of press time, I haven’t yet received a response. If they do decide to share their side of the story, I’ll be sure to keep you updated (and possibly give the program a second chance). Until then, my TUL Visitor Pass adventure remains a somewhat frustrating mystery.