LaGuardia, JetBlue, And the Impostor (Airline Security Fail)

I go off-topic today because of an extraordinary security failure at LaGuardia, that just so happens to involve a local personal injury attorney, Jason Paris. The version on NBC is titled Security Lapse at LaGuardia is Cause for Alarm, and it involves another passenger boarding the same flight, but with a duplicate boarding pass in Paris’s name.

And when the problem is discovered, do they pull the impostor off the flight?   Get search warrants? Interrogate, water board or tase him?

Here is Paris’s first person account, as today’s guest blog:

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This was pretty scary in light of the recent events regarding the ability of the Times Square bomber to make it onto a plane:

On Thursday, May 13th, I was on the 6am flight on Jetblue from LaGuardia to Fort Lauderdale. I was seated in 11F. Someone else got on and sat in 11E (the middle seat). He was traveling with only a laptop. A few minutes later the person who was supposed to be in 11E came on (a pilot from another airline who was flying to Florida to meet up with his crew). The flight attendant told the guy who was sitting in 11E that he was in the wrong seat. He said he knew, that he was supposed to be in 11F but since I was in it already he was being nice and didn’t ask me to move.

He then produced a boarding pass for 11F. It had my name on it. My name, not his. I had checked in online and printed my boarding pass at home, a full day before my flight. And yet here was someone with a boarding pass with my name on it.

This person had somehow managed to get through three security checkpoints and onto a plane without an ID and boarding pass that matched. He did not have an ID with my name on it. He had a French passport that was issued in Paris (which is my last name).

So the gate agent comes onto the plane. My law partner (who was in 11D) and I, as well as the off-duty pilot and the people in the surrounding rows assumed that she was going to conduct an investigation to get to the bottom of this, and make sure that we were all safe.  Not exactly…..

She does not ask to see any IDs. All she does is ask this man his last name so she can find his correct seat (which was 21D). She moved him to 21D and left the plane.  No one asked him any questions or asked to see his ID, no one asked to see my ID. And when I started asking what’s going on and asking how it’s possible that this happened, and when my law partner started saying it was a security breach – the gate agent and flight attendant gave us dirty looks and made us feel as if we said anything that they would kick us off the plane.

We were on our way to a pretty important business meeting with a new client, so I did the stupid thing.  I stayed on the plane.  I whipped out my blackberry and wrote a text message to one of our associates, letting her know all of this in case something horrible happened.  And even though the flight was at 6 a.m. and I was exhausted, I did not sleep at all on the plane.  I had an eye towards row 21 the entire flight, freaking out about what might happen.

Clearly this breakdown needs to be addressed and something needs to be done – this could have been a story with a horrible, tragic ending.

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OK, ET again:

So the Transportation Security Administration will make us take off our shoes and belts, take your toothpaste, and go bonkers for smoking in the bathroom. In the near future, they will x-ray us up the wazoo.

But they will let a man pass multiple checkpoints without matching an ID to a boarding pass, and when the error is discovered, will simply put the imposter in a new seat without bothering with all of that icky security stuff.

Nice to see we are in safe hands.

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9 Responses Leave a comment

  • emshighway 2010.5.18 at 19:00 | Quote

    Based on how the airline gate agent and flight attendant were acting it is very possible the other passenger was on standby and the airline printed the wrong boarding pass. It has happen before several times.

    All passengers had all their stuff screened. Should it have happen? No, but the possible standby passenger would have been checked with the standby pass with their correct name on it.

  • Eric Turkewitz 2010.5.19 at 06:11 | Quote

    Since the ID of the passenger with the wrong ticket was never checked on the plane after the problem was found, it is pretty clear that this was a significant failure.

  • Cathy 2010.5.19 at 10:21 | Quote

    Why on earth should we ever need an ID to fly?

    http://papersplease.org/gilmore/id.html

    The “security failure” here just provides more illustration that having to show ID in order to board a plane is a failed idea, not that there was actually a security failure vis a vis the flight.

    Mr. Paris should have felt free to relax and enjoy the flight, and dream about what it was like to travel without having our civil liberties constantly invaded for no good reason.

  • Eric Turkewitz 2010.5.19 at 13:13 | Quote

    Why on earth should we ever need an ID to fly?

    To make it more difficult for the bad guys to get through?

    I read your link, and the author presumes that terrorists are all smart and can fabricate fake IDs, so that only honest people are impaired by the process.

    But that presumes that all terrorists are smart. And as we saw with the Times Square car bomber, some are dumb as rocks. (Unless he was deliberately trying to fail, of course.)

    And the ID system did eventually capture him on the plane, if not at the terminal.

    There may certainly be decent libertarian arguments against showing ID in certain circumstances, and an abuse by both private and public parties that engage in such practices. But I disagree with the premise of the argument that terrorists are smart and that it won’t hinder their efforts when it comes to hijacking airplanes.

  • Kevin Underhill 2010.5.19 at 16:38 | Quote
  • Tammy Cravit 2010.5.19 at 17:16 | Quote

    Why on earth should we ever need an ID to fly?

    To make it more difficult for the bad guys to get through?

    There are at least three problems with this theory, however:

    1. It assumes that knowing who someone is and knowing whether they’re bad guys or not somehow go together. It’s virtually certain that there are bad guys whose identities are unknown to the TSA, and likewise that there are names on the TSA’s list that don’t, in fact, identify bad guys. And, it’s highly probable that those looking to put bad guys on a plane will be able to pick, at least some of the time, from a pool of people not on the “bad guys” list.

    2. It assumes that the bad guys are incapable of creating, buying, stealing, or extorting IDs for themselves. There have been stories of employees of state Departments of Motor Vehicles and similar selling real IDs to people with bogus names/etc. on them. Also, what happens if a bad guy gets a counterfeit, but credible-looking, ID? The TSA might not catch them.

    3. At present, you can fly without showing any ID at all. You just have to undergo a more exhaustive security screening procedure. So the ID requirement isn’t really keeping bad guys from flying…it’s just making them marginally less likely to smuggle contraband through a security checkpoint successfully. But pair up a bad guy without ID and one (carrying some of the contraband) who has a bogus, or real but unknown, ID and you’re not solving anything.

    The basic problem with airport security is rather intractable: The TSA needs to catch 100% of the bad guys without excessively inconveniencing the traveling public. The bad guys, on the other hand, don’t need to be perfect. They don’t need to get every single would-be terrorist on the plane. What happens if a terrorist hatches a plot that involves 100 people fanning out in twos and threes at 20 different airports? Even if 90% of them are caught, that’s still ten would-be evildoers on planes.

    Note that I’m not, by the way, arguing against airport security. But recognizing the limitations of that security is important, I think.

  • Eric Turkewitz 2010.5.19 at 20:45 | Quote

    Even if 90% of them are caught, that’s still ten would-be evildoers on planes.

    Yes, but that is still 90% that are caught.

    No one should fantasize that any system is 100%. But that would be a poor excuse for making it easy for the bad guys.

  • Diane Thomas 2010.5.21 at 11:06 | Quote

    This is a shocking breach of security. I’ve always thought of JetBlue as a safe airline to fly. However, now I see that is not always so. I would think that especially in NYC that they would take extra precautions. I am quite surprised that they did not rescreen that fellow, and reprint the ticket at the least. They would never have allowed mismatched tickets to fly before on any airline. Why did he get special treatment?

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