Getting a greeting at the airport is one of the best feelings in the world, especially if you have been away for quite some time.
Unfortunately, greeting someone at the airport is not always so simple.
In this article, I’ll outline all of the steps you need to take to meet someone at the airport so that both you and the passenger won’t be waiting around.
Table of Contents
Factors to consider when greeting someone at the airport
Get your timing down
The most important thing you want to have down is the timing when you’re trying to greet someone at the airport.
This is accomplished by knowing the updated flight arrival time and if there will be any extra waiting time for things like bags or immigration.
Flight arrival time
Obviously, when you are trying to greet someone at the airport you want to consider the scheduled arrival time of their flight.
But as I am sure you’re aware, some flights arrive early while some flights arrive late.
The best thing to do is to get their flight number and then utilize something like FlightAware to keep an eye on the status of the flight. It will let you know if the flight departed early or late and when it is expected to arrive.
You can also use the airline’s app or website but I’ve found FlightAware gives me updated information quicker sometimes. On these apps, you can see information like the arrival gate, which can help you find the right terminal to arrive at.
Of course, it’s always a good idea to also ask the passenger to text or call you once they arrive and take their phone out of airplane mode.
If they have bags, they should be able to tell you which baggage carousel their bags will end up at.
In addition to tracking the flight time, it will help to know a few other things about their travels like if they have checked bags and if they have Global Entry.
Do they have checked bags?
You want to make sure that you know if the passengers will have checked bags they need to pick up.
Waiting for checked bags can take anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes extra depending on how fast or slow things are going.
If you’re planning on greeting this person inside the airport consider greeting them at the baggage carousel so that they don’t have to wait for the bags alone. It’s actually a great place to start catching up if you haven’t seen them in a while.
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Do they have Global Entry?
This only pertains to international flights but if your passenger has to go through customs and immigration in the US, it will help to know if they have Global Entry.
Sometimes customs and immigration could add on an extra 15 to 30 minutes to your waiting time but if they have Global Entry they may be able to get through in something like five minutes.
You will not be able to accompany them when going through immigration or customs but you can typically wait right outside the exit of the customs area.
Head to the right terminal
You’ll need to make sure that you are heading to the right area of the airport which is going to be the arrivals baggage claim area for the terminal that the plane is arriving in.
You can use a flight tracker app to see what gate or terminal the plane is arriving in but some airports have dedicated terminals for specific airlines. You can also follow the signs at the airport to guide you.
You’ll be looking for a parking garage or parking lot that connects to that area.
The parking situation
Typically, if you’re planning on going inside the airport to greet someone you’ll be looking to park in the hourly parking.
A lot of times this is a parking garage or parking lot located adjacent to the airport which makes it a short walk. You’ll be paying by the hour most likely but be on the lookout for garages that allow you to get free parking if you are out of there in 30-60 minutes or less.
If you have someone else in the car who is not going to head in the airport with you and then they can consider dropping you off and then parking in the cell phone waiting lot.
This is a free parking lot usually located within just a few minutes of the airport arrivals.
One thing you do not want to do is to leave your car at the arrivals area.
Even if you are inside the vehicle just waiting for the passenger to arrive, a security guard may tell you to get a move on. This can result in you taking lap after lap around the airport and wasting a lot of gas.
And you should avoid leaving your car unattended in this area at all costs. An unattended vehicle in this area could be considered a major security threat and you could get yourself involved in a pretty messy situation real fast.
Finding your passenger to greet them
Near baggage claim, there may be one main passageway that passengers exit through and that’s where you’ll be looking for your passenger.
Sometimes you can see the sterile zone sign in that area which is a sign stating that exiting passengers can’t return past that point and you’ll see a TSA agent posted there.
You won’t be able to go through that area but you could wait somewhere nearby for your passenger to come through.
Other times, you won’t be able to get that close to the sterile gateway and you will need to wait somewhere near the carousels of baggage claim.
When the airport is busy it shouldn’t be hard to find other people lined up and waiting or holding signs with the passenger’s name. That’s typically as close as you can get.
If the passenger is coming back from an international flight you can locate the customs area and you can wait by the exit near that area so that you can greet them at the soonest opportunity.
Greeting someone at the gate
Although it might seem very old-fashioned, it still is possible to greet someone at the gate but this is definitely something that takes an extra effort.
One way to do this is to get a “gate pass” which is often something that people get with unaccompanied minors, military members, or special needs persons.
This pass allows you to escort someone to and from the gates (where the planes arrive and depart).
You can speak with your airline about getting a gate pass but they will likely limit gate passes to the specific instances above where people need special assistance.
But some airports also offer gate passes which will allow you to get to the gates. These are usually much less restrictive than the ones offered by the airline. You can usually find an online submission form that you will need to fill out prior to your visit. Here is an example from DTW.
Just note that getting a gate pass for international arrivals is often not possible because the passengers have to go through customs and immigration.
Book a fully refundable airline ticket
A more slightly dramatic step would be to book a fully refundable airline ticket that will give you access to the terminal that they will be arriving in.
If you know the exact gate they will be arriving at you could find a flight heading out of that terminal and purchase a fully refundable flight scheduled for a couple of hours after their arrival.
Security lines probably won’t be an issue if you have TSA Pre-Check and CLEAR, especially if you don’t have a carry-on.
As long as you cancel in time, you will not be out any money and you will be able to greet them at the gate when they arrive.
This type of thing is a grey area for airlines and if you do choose to do this you should not make a habit of it.
I would only attempt this in the most special of occasions or as a last resort when you need to be at the gate for someone who will need assistance but can’t get access for some reason.
Greeting someone with flowers or signs
At most airports, it should not be a problem to greet a passenger with flowers or custom signs.
As long as your greeting doesn’t involve any prohibited or “suspect” item, you should be able to bring it with you inside the airport.
This means that flowers should be allowed although try not to bombard the newly arriving passenger with a bunch of stuff they have to figure out how to to hold.
If you’re in need of some inspiration for a clever airport greeting sign, check out this article with lots of ideas.
When greeting someone at the airport it’s all about timing, figuring out your parking, and then making sure that you are in the right spot. If you want to take your greeting to the next level you can look into a gate pass although that is not always possible.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, and CNBC.