An American Airlines Airbus A321 enroute to Cancun diverted after a former employee bypassed security screening by entering the secure side of the airport through an employee-only entrance, then boarded the aircraft.
American Airlines A321 Diverts After Passenger Skips Security Screening
Most active airline employees who work operationally at airports or onboard are able to bypass security after undergoing a background check and obtaining a Secure Identification Display Area (SIDA) badge. It isn’t clear if this ex-employee had one or perhaps even an unexpired badge that he failed to surrender after leaving Piedmont Airlines, a wholly-owned subsidiary of American Airlines.
In any case, he was observed entering the secure side of Charlotte Douglas International Airport by an employee, who quickly reported him to the TSA.
The TSA began a manhunt, eventually using CCTV to track him to AA881, which had just taken off for Cancun. The captain was notified and turned the plane around, telling passengers onboard it was due to a flap problem.
A passenger on this plane says Wilson sat in first class and the crew was doing beverage service when a flight attendant got a call. Then, the captain got the intercom and told everyone to sit down, the passenger says. The plane then started circling until landing back at CLT
— Hunter Sáenz (@Hunt_Saenz) June 8, 2021
The ex-employee was sitting in first class and likely unaware that the diversion was due to his actions. Police met the aircraft upon landing, escorted the passenger off, then searched the aircraft using police dogs.
An American Airlines spokesperson noted:
American Airlines flight 881 returned to Charlotte shortly after takeoff following reports of a potential security concern. Upon arrival, Charlotte Mecklenburg Police (CMPD) met the flight and escorted one customer off the aircraft. The flight departed for Cancun at 10:40 a.m. with all other customers following a precautionary maintenance inspection and security sweep.
Meanwhile, Charlotte police explained:
Earlier today, a former airline employee was observed by a badged employee bypassing the security process and gaining illegal entry to the secure side of the airport. Airport security responded and began a search for an individual. The individual boarded an aircraft with a valid boarding pass. The airline was notified and the aircraft returned to CLT where the person was taken into custody. CLT is working with our law enforcement and airline partners as the investigation continues.
After the search, the flight took off again for Cancun, eventually arriving three hours late.
Even active employees are not permitted to bypass security screenings for leisure trips. Whether a diversion was warranted requires more facts (was his badge expired, did he undergo an extensive background check), but even if he did pass a background check with flying colors, he likely will not any longer…This incident is a reminder that it pays to play by the rules. If you want to bypass security, fly private.
(H/T: View From The Wing // image: American Airlines)
If he is an ex-employee, he should have had to surrender all of his credentials before receiving his final paycheck. His supervisor should have a checklist of what to retrieve from outgoing employees. That’s how most employers operate.
Skipping screening happened to me once along with another passenger. The helicopter landed near the gate area and the special screening area was not manned. Both the other passenger and I just walked into the airside portion of the terminal, no questions asked, and connected with a regular airline flight. This was many years ago. The problem wasn’t repeated when I arrived by helicopter some weeks later.
The plane was already airborne when they realized he was onboard. If he had ill intent he could have acted on it. He clearly didn’t. Good thing 160 people were lied to, then delayed for three hours, only so the police state could strong arm someone who probably didn’t even realize they had made a mistake.
There was a PSA crash in the 80s where a former employee used his old credentials to evade security, kill his old boss, and crash the plane. A truly evil man.
To me this passenger was likely up to something- if you’re an airline employee, current or former, you don’t just accidentally not go through security.
Maybe not murder, but possibly smuggling or done such?
Besides, if all passengers are required to go through security, then all passengers are required to go through security … if it becomes clear that one deliberately did not, you can’t just say “oh, well…”
Perhaps keeping the old ID was a mistake, but wearing it into the airport was probably a choice. Perhaps they went through the staff entry out of former habit; but it was probably a choice.
Perhaps it was all just a stupid mistake. Perhaps any ill intent was for a different phase of the flight…
In this situation I think the lie about flaps was necessary; to minimise panic, and to avoid alerting the trespasser they were on to them, just in case. Not elegant, but better safe than sorry.
As a working Pilot you would not believe the crap I have to go thru to just get to work. They took my SIDA badge years ago because I am not trustworthy to let myself onto the plane. My question is who checks the checkers? TSA is a feel good facade. The nudem-up scanners are dangerous and clear violation of privacy. Screening should be done before the passenger even arrives at the airport. EL AL has never had a incident. Do what works and get rid of tax eating make jobs TSA.
AA makes its clear to all employees what is expected for employees traveling on flights. The fact that he still had a sida badge as a former employee is troubling That should have been the first thing taken from the employee on their last day and then escorted by a badged employee out past security. Good probability that he will no longer have employee travel privileges after this fiasco.
Airport badges are issued by the airport, not the airlines; this badge allows you to open doors after you scan it on an ID pad and entering your personal four-digit code (like when you use an ATM); the airline ID is only good for identification purpose when asked (i .e. Staff traveling, etc.). He probably was near this employee entrance and another employee (likely known to him) used his airport badge to open the door; this is illegal and one can be fined or jailed (current and former employees know this is a no-no), especially if you are still employed; you don’t want to jeopardize your job. Every employee entrance has a sign that says:’no piggybacking’.