Airport Employees Get Screened Like Passengers
Joseph Tyre empties the cell phones and keys from his pockets and prepares to be searched with a metal detector — for the fourth time today.
It’s 11 a.m. at Jacksonville International Airport, and Tyre isn’t a terrorism suspect. He’s an airport maintenance worker. He and other workers at airports are part of a test ordered by Congress that aims to find out whether aviation security can be improved by screening employees every time they enter a restricted zone.
According to the USA Today, the test could lead to hundreds of thousands of airport workers facing the same screening as passengers — a prospect that Congress says could close a security loophole but which opponents call a logistical nightmare.
“It’s aggravating for us,” says Tyre, who was checked by a screener near a luggage carousel in the airport’s ground floor. Tyre, his hands blackened by grime, had been upstairs trying to fix a squeaky belt at an airline counter and was going to the secured area to get a grease gun.
In Jacksonville, Transportation Security Administration screeners are checking 4,300 workers a day, sometimes 10 times a day, before they go through doors leading to ticket counters, luggage belts and airplanes. Four of the eight employee checkpoints are near the airport perimeter to screen people driving onto the airfield.
Even TSA opposes screening all airport workers — a point that Administrator Kip Hawley made to Congress last year when lawmakers were considering 100 percent employee screening.
“Airports are waiting to see what comes out of this,” TSA Assistant Administrator John Sammon told the USA Today.
The problem is that even after screening, airport workers can get heavy tools, jet fuel and possibly weapons that someone may toss over an airport fence, Sammon says. A better solution is to train workers to spot suspicious activity, such as a worker in an area where he shouldn’t be or carrying something odd, he says.
Congress ordered the three-month test last year after a series of incidents. In March 2007, a Comair baggage handler at Orlando International Airport was charged with using his airline ID to carry a duffel bag with 14 guns and eight pounds of marijuana into the cabin of a Puerto Rico-bound flight. In July, a JetBlue worker at Orlando was charged after agreeing to smuggle two machine guns and four handguns onto a flight to Puerto Rico.
In April, the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ investigative arm, said checking airport workers is a top issue in aviation security.