Loophole Found in Airport Security

Anyone who has passed through an airport since the September 11th terrorist attacks can tell you that airport security measures have travelers jumping through hoops. It seems, however, that not all travelers are subjected to the same rigorous security standards. The Oregonian recently identified a disturbing loophole in security: travelers who look like minors do not have to show photo ID to be issued boarding passes and, lately, a number of crafty teens have been taking advantage of the breach—talking their way through otherwise strict protocols of airport security.

The Oregonian reported on October 11th that a Transportation Security Administration policy "allows anyone who looks like a teenager to enter an airport security checkpoint, as long as they have an airline-issued boarding pass." Since minors under the age of 18 may not have a photo ID, there is no way to ensure that the person using the boarding pass matches the name on the pass.

The newspaper cited an October 3rd incident when a 6-foot-2, 14-year-old boy was allowed to pass through airport security using his mother's name, Virginia Davis. A TSA screener even asked the boy, Dakota M. Davis, "Are you Virginia?" After mumbling a reply, he was allowed to board a flight to O'Hare International Airport in Chicago.

Dakota, who has an autism-related disorder called Asperger's syndrome, had memorized the numbers of his adopted mother's credit card. He snuck out of the house late at night, using the information to order a limousine that dropped him off at airport.

With the help of the Chicago police, Dakota was eventually tracked down. United Airlines issued him a return ticket home, but Virginia Davis said that the airline and TSA are not taking proper responsibility for allowing Dakota on the plane in the first place.

This is not the first incident of a teen sneaking through security, either. Just this past April, a 13-year-old boy with autism in Florida stole his dad's Ford Explorer and credit card before catching a flight to California to visit his mother. The Palm Beach Post reported on April 29 that the teen did not have a passport, driver's license, or any photo ID-yet still got past airport security. According to the publication, the teen's mother, Kim Casey, said "I can't believe he pulled this off," adding "I'm flabbergasted."

Back in 2007, a 9-year-old runaway pulled a similar stunt, sneaking onto 2 flights before getting caught in Texas. Associated Press reported on January 17, 2007 that the boy made it through airport security in Seattle and Phoenix before gate agents in San Antonio caught him attempting to board another plane. A statement issued by Southwest Airlines said the boy was given a boarding pass and allowed to pass through security because his "information matched a paid, ticketless reservation for the flight." The boy had lied to the staff at the ticket counter, saying that he was three years older and that his mother was waiting for him in the boarding area.

According to a May 27, 2008 report from The Seattle Times, the same boy attempted to finagle his way onto a plane around a year later. He was issued a boarding pass, but was caught trying to tailgate through security by telling a security agent he was with the man in front of him. His plan backfired when the man turned around and told the airport staff that he did not know the boy.

So far, there have been no reported incidents of adults posing as minors, but it is a loophole that could be easy to execute. Any bartender or convenience store clerk could tell you how difficult it is to distinguish a minor from an adult.

Dwayne Baird, the TSA's public information officer for the Northwest, was quoted in The Oregonian as saying that the identification loophole should not cause alarm, because any passenger will still have to go through the security screening process.

"Every passenger regardless of age is properly screened through multiple layers of security and deemed not to be a threat to aviation security before getting on a flight," Baird said.

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