Vicki Albright of Nevada City flew out of SFO last month, destined for a European vacation. She checked in at the United Airlines counter, passed through TSA security screening, and had her passport stamped in Frankfort, Germany. Only after she got to Italy did she realize her passport had expired a year ago.
Vicki says she went right to the U.S. Consulate, "At first they said, 'Well, you know, you shouldn't travel if your passport's gonna expire within the next six months.' And I said, 'Are you looking at my passport? It expired last year.' And they said, 'Well, how did you get here?' And I said, 'Well, I was kinda wondering if you guys weren't gonna tell me that cause I'm not sure I got here either."'
ABC7 News talked to travelers at SFO Thursday who were equally surprised, "You practically have to strip down to nothing -- shoes, jackets, belts, all of that," Sunnyvale resident Linda Lamagna said. "And yet, these things that you'd think they would find, kind of escape notice."
While Seattle resident Syed Hasan said, "Customs and immigration has to be more tightened up for our security. Passport is one of the major aspects of travel. So it should be checked more thoroughly I guess."
ABC7 News talked with a spokesperson for United Airlines who said the ticket agent at the counter should have caught the expired passport, but that it is really the passenger's responsibility to have the correct paperwork. Not to fly out of the U.S., but rather to prevent them from getting turned away when they get to another country.
The TSA says they don't consider the incident a security breach and note that in certain cases people can fly without a valid ID; for example, in the case of a natural disaster or if they lose their ID while traveling.
That being said, they admit the TSA officer should have noticed the expired passport and asked for another form of ID.
As for Vicki, the U.S. Consulate in Italy gave her a new passport so she could fly home. But says the incident has left her concerned, "I'm just one traveler, but who else is getting through? I don't have any idea. Something obviously is amiss in the system."