Airline pilots, employees slip through security loophole

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After the September 11 attacks, airport security was supposed to get tighter, but employees are slipping through a hole in the system.

A new government report is calling into question whether bomb detecting scanners and X-ray machines at the nation's airports are properly maintained. That's one concern, but there is another. Why are airline employees sidestepping the security equipment and walking right onto the planes? This is happening at all Bay Area airports.

At Oakland International Airport, while you wait to get your bags checked, flight crews line up at a door clearly marked do not enter. Security checks their badge and waves them through a locked door, never checking their bags.

Travelers at San Francisco International Airport expressed concern. Some said they think everyone should have to go through security and other said employees should have to have everything they carry with them checked too.

It isn't just happening in Oakland; ABC7 News found it's happening at San Jose International Airport and San Francisco International Airport, as well. In fact, it's happening across the country and the Transportation Security Administration thinks it is OK.

"This system is a huge loophole in the security system and I think that people will be stunned to know that it exists," former Inspector General for the Department of Transportation Mary Schiavo said.

Schiavo is talking about the Known Crewmember program, which allows pilots and flight attendants to bypass the normal screening process at 60 airports nationwide. "It's almost like we have forgotten the lessons of September 11, 2001. We don't know who the terrorists may be targeting, we don't know who may pose a danger," Schiavo said.

But even in New York City, where the tragedy of the September 11 attacks unfolded, pilots and crew strolled through a secure gate, entirely bypassing all the screening machines and rolling their suitcases, unchecked, into a supposedly screened area.

"We don't want you on the plane with things that shouldn't be on a plane because they can be taken away from you by a terrorist," Schiavo said.

The TSA says pilots and crew members have entered airports through side doors 31 million times, carrying unchecked bags, and there's never been a problem.

A TSA spokesperson told ABC7 News that the agency also gets "Real-time positive verification and validation of each crewmember's status as an active airline employee."

Everyone in the program also undergoes an FBI background check.

The Air Line Pilots Association says the program is a "vital component to a multi-layered security screening process that allows the TSA to refocus security resources, increase efficiency in security screenings and significantly reduce wait times in security lines for pilots and the traveling public."

But Schiavo says that's still not an excuse to forgo full screenings. She points to cases where crewmembers have cleared psychological and security screenings by their airlines and later caused problems.

In March, Germanwings pilot Andreas Lubitz deliberately crashed an Airbus into the French Alps, killing 150 people.

Remember Steven Slater? He's the JetBlue flight attendant who cursed out passengers, grabbed a beer and jumped out the emergency exit at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Then there was Clayton Osbon, the JetBlue captain who left the cockpit in the midst of a mid-air meltdown. He had to be restrained and was locked out of the cockpit.

"Can you imagine if they had weapons or contraband and they had a mental episode on a plane?" Schiavo said.

Schiavo says flight crews should be allowed to go to the front of the TSA line, but she thinks allowing them to bypass the screening machines is a huge gap in aviation security.

"Just because no one has not taken advantage of the loopholes yet, doesn't mean that they won't," Schiavo said.

Written and Produced by Ken Miguel and Steve Daniels, WTVD-TV
Related Topics:
travelplane crashjetblueTSAairport securitysecuritytransportationu.s. & worldbusinessmineta san jose international airportairport newsseptember 11terrorismAssignment 7San JoseOaklandSan FranciscoSan Francisco International AirportOakland International Airport
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