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TSA crew member lanes raise security concerns

Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials have raised concerns about special crew member lanes at airports, which allow flight attendants and airline pilots to bypass regular passenger screening procedures. These lanes were introduced in 2011 under the Known Crew program, a joint initiative of the TSA, Airlines for America and the Airline Pilots Association, International. However, some TSA agents have criticized these lanes as a security risk, with one agent suggesting that cabin crews could pose a greater flight risk than passengers.

This criticism has been amplified following recent smuggling incidents. Four flight attendants were charged with smuggling millions of dollars in drug money out of the US using the crew member lane at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. The defendants, Charlie Hernandez, Sarah Valerio Pujols, Emmanuel Torres and Jarol Fabio, were arrested earlier this month, and prosecutors alleged they managed to pass $8 million in cash between 2014 and 2023.

Drug traffickers may pay flight attendants to smuggle in illegal substances or cash, and are often discovered only during random searches. According to TSA officers, there have been multiple instances of airline crew abusing these privileges, resulting in a breach of trust.

Most officers believe crew personnel should have their own lines and be screened separately, but argue current security measures are too lenient. In response, an Airlines for America spokesperson stated that the safety and security of passengers and crew is their highest priority and that the known Crew Member Program has operated successfully for 12 years.

Caleb Harmon-Marshall, a former TSA agent, suggested that airlines should do a better job of educating their crews about the dangers of the program. He also highlighted the potential temptation for flight crew to smuggle items, particularly if they are in financial difficulties. Harmon-Marshall believes that while the known crewmember program is a useful tool, it's time for the agencies behind it to rethink how it operates because of potential security gaps.

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