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Can Someone Accompany Me to the Gate?

Welcome to the Today in Travel Question of the Week. As always, you can submit a query below or via email.

Dear Carl,

I was not only entertained (and horrified) today while reading the "Readers' Horror Stories of 2009," but I also related to the poor grandmother who slept peacefully at the gate while her plane took off without her because this exact same thing happened to me.

A few years ago, I took an anti-anxiety pill before I got to the airport to catch my plane to Berlin. Being two hours early, I found a seat next to the gate and fell asleep. My flight boarded and was gone when I woke up a few hours later. The woman at the counter booked me for the next flight the following day, and told me that I was allowed to have one person accompany me to the gate if I was in need of assistance, i.e. drugged. The next day, I was able to get a pass which allowed my friend to go through security and wait with me at the gate.

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My question to you: I was flying with Delta, but I want to know if other airlines offer a similar thing. And if so, why aren't more people aware of it? This knowledge seems pretty important to flyers.

K. Stone

Dear K,

Most airlines do give out gate passes, which allow non-ticketed individuals to accompany ticketed passengers past security to the gate. However, gate passes are typically meant, at least officially, for parents of unaccompanied minors, people assisting elderly or disabled passengers, and military families. In fact, gate passes were in the spotlight a few months back when Continental sent two unaccompanied minors to the wrong destination.

But as usual, policies vary by airline, both in terms of breadth and specificity, and Delta's policy is somewhat vague. Delta states that parents must accompany young children to the gate, but is not so clear when it comes to elderly or disabled passengers. There is no mention of passengers who are ill or, as in your case, incapacitated in some way. Delta's contract does, however, say that an "accompanying attendant" may be required, "When the passenger has a mobility impairment so severe as to be unable to assist in his/her own evacuation." Whether or not unintentional sedation qualifies here, I can't really say.

Other airlines also address the issue. Northwest, which is part of Delta, has a pretty clear gate policy. So does United: "Non-ticketed escorts may accompany minor children traveling alone and passengers needing special assistance to the gate. In addition, family members of military personnel being deployed to combat zones overseas can accompany ticketed customers to the gate."

Here's Southwest: "Need a helping hand? If you need wheelchair assistance, a friend or family member is welcome to assist you on your way to/from the gate area. Just have them stop by the ticket counter with a government-issued photo ID to obtain a gate pass."

Readers, any tips for obtaining a gate pass? Any stories of your own to share? Submit a comment below, and as always, please send along your travel questions for future installments of Question of the Week. Thanks!

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