Flight Attendant Case Shows Airport Security Lapses
- By Sydny Shepard
- Mar 28, 2016
Airline employees, including pilots, flight attendants and crew members are given a “known crew member” badge and are not usually asked to be subjected to the same amount of security measures that most passengers are used to. Most times, employees are able to flash their badge and more through security quickly, so that they are not late for their scheduled flights.
Sometimes, however, crew members are chosen at random to complete the security checkpoint. That’s what happened to JetBlue flight attendant, Marsha Gay Reynolds. Usually this isn’t a big deal, just an inconvenience, but in the case of Reynolds, she became visibly nervous. Suddenly, she kicked off her high-heeled shoes and ran from the security checkpoint as fast as she could, leaving her bags behind her.
“This is a security breakdown,” Marshall McClain, president of the union representing Los Angeles airport police officers, told the New York Times. “That could have easily been an explosive device and a terrorist running from the checkpoint. And we wouldn’t’ have known until it went ‘boom.’”
The items were immediately searched and it was found that Reynolds was attempting to fly almost 70 pounds of cocaine across the country. The 11 saran wrapped packages were estimated to value up to $3 million.
The worst part of all is that within 70 hours of ditching the drugs, she was able to board another flight using her crew member badge at one of the busiest airports in the country.
Communication lapses, bureaucratic complications and special security privileges afforded airline workers all contributed to Ms. Reynolds’s ability to remain out of the grasp of law enforcement authorities until she surrendered four days later at Kennedy Airport in New York.
McClain told the times that the case brings up fears of terrorist gaining crew member clearance to aircrafts and airports. While the crew member badges are only issued after the employee has successfully passed a background check that includes fingerprinting, crew members do not have to be wearing uniforms or have boarding pass with them when using the badges, making it especially risky in the case of a stolen badge.
No bulletin for Reynolds’ capture was immediately issued, allowing her to hop on a plane within the next couple of days, postponing her arrest. The TSA also would not have flagged her name because she did not pose a terrorist threat.
Jeff Price, an aviation expert, said he wasn’t particularly surprised by Reynolds’ ability to fly so soon after her run in with security. He said the system was designed to catch terrorists, not criminals.
Price told the Times that the involvement of the crew member badge “might cause the TSA to look at this program a little more closely, to see if this is going to be a problem from a terrorist perspective.”
While TSA has said that a full screening of all employees would take cost too much, they will be increasing random screenings of workers and will keep background checks up to date.
Reynolds, a former Jamaican beauty queen and New York University track athlete, faces at least 10 years in prison if convicted of the federal drug charge against her.
Sydny Shepard is the Executive Editor of Campus Security & Life Safety.