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Scary Airline Employees

Cindy Loose

What's the right time to get alarmed about airport and airline security? Maybe when security officials start patting down other security officials?

That's part of what was going on yesterday at airports in Orlando, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa and San Juan. The Transporation Security Administration was also searching airplanes and airport vehicles in those airports, and plans to extend surprise inspections to other airports this week.

The move came as a response to last week's incident in which two airline employees smuggled more than a dozen firearms into a jet leaving Orlando. One of the workers, Thomas Munoz, a Comair baggage handler, and Comair worker Zabdiel Santiago-Balaguer, allegedly used their work I.D.s to get into restricted areas of the Orlando International Airport on March 5. They smuggled a bag with 14 firearms and eight pounds of marijuana onto a plane bound for San Juan. Since then, three others, including another Comair employee, have been arrested as suspects in a drug and gun smuggling ring operating out of Orlando airport, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Munoz got caught when he landed, thanks to a tipster.

All employees with access to sensitive areas of airports are routinely fingerprinted and given background checks. You have to wonder how good the checks are, though, given that Santiago-Balaguer has a picture of himself on his Web site holding an assault weapon and a big wad of cash. That might have raised some questions, you'd think.

Then there's the issue of employees with work I.D.s not having to go through security in many airports. TSA officials generally do random checks of employees. Yesterday, all employees going behind security barriers were being screened in Orlando. Seems like a good idea to me.

By Cindy Loose |  March 14, 2007; 10:04 AM ET  | Category:  Airline Industry , Cindy Loose
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I find it odd that they don't have to go through with work IDs at a lot of airports -- when I worked at Dulles a couple of years ago, we did, although we did get to go through the pilot/flight attendant line -- still had to take off our shoes and such, but it was so so much faster (probably because there are fewer people and those people have it down pat and know what they can and can't have, but that's another issue).

Posted by: Former airport employee | March 14, 2007 10:16 AM

I recently noticed, in a "major" Florida airport, that the "security" agents..1) were not speaking English...and 2) barely looked at ID's and/or tickets. I wondered if they could read English.

I made a comment to the passenger in front of me. He shrugged it off as if this "latin language" is the norm in our country.

I did not feel confident the agent was looking out for my safety. It seemed that she was just getting a paycheck.

I'll be voicing my concerns louder next time I fly.

Posted by: recentflyer | March 14, 2007 11:11 AM

Regarding the topic, it is hardly surprising that airline and airport employees are doing scary/illegal stuff to supplement their income. We are putting an awful lot of responsibility on people who work for very little money.

Also, I wanted to thank the travel gurus and National Geographic for a lovely evening last night. I was one of the lucky 20 Travel Chat readers on Monday who wrote in and got an invitation to the premier of National Geographic's Galapagos movie. The art exhibit and reception were lovely (especially the "Blue Footed Boobie" martinis and the chocolate fountain). The movie was wonderful and made me even more determined to save up my vacation days to visit this natural wonder. Everybody should tune in to the National Geographic channel on Sunday, March 18 at 8:00 to watch.

Posted by: Happy Reader | March 14, 2007 11:42 AM

Re Happy Reader. I assume you will fly to the Galapagos. I hope you are not in charge of security for the flight.

Posted by: Raise security not minimum wage | March 14, 2007 12:20 PM

This is unfortunately not restricted to the US. Several baggage handlers at Paris CDG airport were fired last year for belonging to radical Islamist organizations with terrorist views. Makes you feel very safe...

Posted by: tdp82 | March 14, 2007 1:06 PM

Gee, what if that had been 8 pounds of explosives? What if those guns had been given to hijackers? It is utterly disgraceful that such a security lapse could occur 5 years after 9/11.

Posted by: Lugo | March 14, 2007 1:18 PM

Do we know how much or little security agents make?

If they are underpaid I hope that is corrected. However suggesting that it is unsurprising that they would run guns and drugs to supplement their salaries is BEYOND STUPID! That is the definition of surprising... I don't care how little you make it is not too much to ask people not to commit serious crimes. That is the premise of society.

Posted by: greg | March 14, 2007 1:32 PM

A couple weeks ago on a Saturday morning, I boarded a plane at National and realized I had inadvertently failed to remove my laptop from my carry-on. The TSA agent screening baggage, who seemed to be fooling around with another passenger behind me in line, never caught this. That sure did make me nervous!!

Posted by: Chris | March 14, 2007 1:58 PM

I hated it Houston /air port was the worst two terrists and the world changes


I found it very hard in Houston and Calgary air port esp because I have Cerebral Palsy


They broke my charger they dont care on bit and my caster on i my Electric Chair its a good thing SMD FIX IT


I purchased a nice and most expensive digital camera made by Leica to assist in a work project while on a recent trip to the UK. It was stolen from my locked and checked bag on the outbound trip to London on 9 February. It had a TSA lock, which means the people responsible for security stole it. Virgin will pay only if the entire bag is stolen. I used Amex to purchase the ticket but Amex does not cover it because it was a digital camera and the Amex buyer protection plan attached to the camera purchase does not cover loss while in the control of a third party, i.e., Virgin Airlines. The weight limit on a carry on bag is 13 lbs. My bag with a laptop is just under 12 lbs. The four lb camera had to go in the locked but checked bag. My concern is that if the TSA hires thieves to run the security, then it must be equally easy to place something into our bags. What sort of security program do we actually have protecting us?

Posted by: Phillip Ramsey | March 15, 2007 7:10 PM

Airport theft is not a new occurance. Since the ability to lock one's luggage has been basically taken away I have traveled less. The stolen camera makes me nervous since I am planning a photo trip to Asia this year. I have never understood how the Airlines have gotten around being responsible for lost belongings. We are paying for the flight and the people's jobs. If the Airlines had to replace stolen items they would be more responsible for their employees.

Posted by: laura | March 16, 2007 8:46 AM

On the lot camera:

Put the camera string around your neck, and the laptop in the carry-on. That way you won't have too heavy a carry-on.

Posted by: oberle | March 16, 2007 12:56 PM

The breaches of security are not surprising to me. I worked in the airline industry for twenty years and I have not seen much change over the years, even after 9/11..The FAA needs to take a get tough attitude about a lot of things however there is not enough money in the coffer to do the job that needs to get done. We need to take a hard look at Israeli Airlines and have the security measures in place that they do. This TSA security group is a joke..and the items you can/cannot take on board is ludicrous.To think the flying public accepts this is astonishing--there is no security!!! And we will again have disasters due to lack of it!! For a country that sh?$s money away as we do we could have one of the best systems in the world but as long as we send idiots to Washington nothing is going to change!!

Posted by: Jan Wilcox | April 2, 2007 5:56 PM

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