Airline, Airport Employees Caught Abusing Security Badges

Badges seized by DFW Airport police

An exclusive NBC 5 investigation uncovered police reports showing workers at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport abusing their security badges, even using them to help family and friends skip the checkpoints to board flights. 

Government officials and a top airline executive were among those caught.

"Sometimes, unfortunately, humans do some really stupid things," said airport security consultant, Larry Wansley.

At DFW, thousands of employees have Secure Identification Display Area (SIDA) badges. But SIDA badges can only be used by employees that are on-duty and they're not allowed to take anyone else through the door with them.

“You sign a piece of paper when you get your badge that says I have read and understand the rules,” said DFW Airport spokesman, David Magana.

But that didn't stop an off-duty Continental Airlines worker from using his badge to put his family in a van at a cargo facility and then drive them across the airport ramp to terminal E.

They were caught entering the terminal after a police officer "heard children laughing" on the airport ramp. 

A police report said the worker told officers he, his wife and two children were "cutting through the terminal to catch a flight home to Ohio."

DFW police seized his security badge. A spokeswoman for United Airlines, which merged with Continental, said the worker involved no longer works for the company.

“Our police department is serious about this,” said Magana.

Just three weeks ago, DFW police seized a badge belonging to the Fred Cleveland, a senior vice president and chief operating officer at American Eagle Airlines.

A report obtained by NBC 5 Investigates said officers caught Cleveland "escorting his wife through the employee portal to meet with his daughter who was flying in."

A spokeswoman for American Eagle said "Mr. Cleveland has a full understanding of what the rule is and will complete re-training to get his badge back.  He does regret the error."

Pilots have been caught abusing badges as well.

During a personal trip, one off-duty American Airlines pilot told police "he was aware of the protocol," "But he wanted to avoid the long lines at the checkpoints."

In another case, an American Airlines flight attendant was caught sneaking a backpack through an employee entrance and giving it to her husband boarding a flight to Germany.

American Airlines told NBC 5 Investigates, "We expect that every employee will follow all rules put in place that govern an airport badge."

Kelly Skyles, with the AA Flight Attendants Union, said it’s upsetting when some employees don’t follow the rules, because they’re potentially putting their co-workers at risk.

“Absolutely it can be very frustrating.  I mean, I understand I make mistakes, we all make mistakes, but we're safety professionals and we're the last line of defense on that aircraft,” Skyles said.

It's not just airline workers breaking rules.

DFW police caught a TSA supervisor taking another worker through an employee door.

Officers seized a badge from a Federal Aviation Administration manager caught using it to board a flight for personal reasons.

And police even stopped an analyst who works for the DFW airport board, the agency that issues the security badges, as she escorted her husband through an employee door to board a flight.

“The vast majority of people working at the airport understand and follow the rules without any problem,” Magana said.

However records show most of the recent security violations at DFW were caused by workers with security badges.

Out of more than 140 confirmed security violations in two years – at least 106 were linked to badge holding employees and vendors.

Magana said the airport is confident its security system catches the vast majority of violators and if any are sneaking through, “that number is very small.”

Aviation Security Consultant Chaim Koppel suspects for every one worker who gets caught as many as two or three abusing their badges manage to get through. 

Koppel, who works with the TSA and airports and airlines all over the globe, said in a perfect world, airports would shut down the employee portals and require all employees to go through screening each day like passengers.

“Best way to do it, not to take any chances, screen everyone physically”, Koppel said. 

But screening all employees at checkpoints could overwhelm the current TSA security system.

At DFW airport alone, “…there are approximately 50,000 employees some of which enter and exit the secure area multiple times during the day,” TSA said in a statement to NBC 5.

“The sheer volume of it, if you did that, would really bring our operations our national operations to a halt,” said veteran aviation security consultant Larry Wansley, who once headed security at American Airlines.

Because airport badge holders have already submitted to background checks, TSA said it focuses more attention on passengers instead of workers.

Trusting employees who have shown, sometimes they cannot be trusted.

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