You’d be shocked at some of the security lapses that have taken place at major airports around the world. (Photo: iStock)
It’s a common lament from security professionals charged with protecting us from terrorism: “We have to be right 100% of the time, but the bad guys have to be right only once.” That may be true, but it’s still shocking how often security pros — especially in airports — are 100% wrong in security fails that can make one downright queasy about flying.
We’re seeing another such security fail this week. The New York Daily News reported that 150 passengers arriving at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport on a flight from Cancun, Mexico left JFK Friday night without going through customs.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection later came out and said only 13 passengers had “inadvertently exited through a domestic gate” without being screened. 10 of them reportedly have been processed and three are American citizens.
Still, that embarrassing glitch raised alarm bells in a world already on edge from the terror attacks in Paris and the October 31st apparent bombing of a Russian passenger jet in Egypt. Since those attacks, airports all over the world have been stepping up security. But the JFK incident provides a cruel reminder that security in airports all over the world is far from perfect, as we see in the 10 Most Terrifying Airport Security Fails.
1. The TSA’s Epic Fail
The TSA had a bad summer, to say the least, as its security failures made front-page news. (Photo: iStock)
This security fail was so massive, it cost the Transportation Security Administration chief his job. Back in June, ABC News reported that undercover testers from the Department of Homeland Security were able to get banned items through airports nationwide in 67 of the 70 tests they conducted — a shocking 95% failure rate. The day after the report became public, the TSA announced its acting administrator was going to be "reassigned.”
2. The kiss of failure
That time when the TSA found itself powerless in the face of young love… (Photo: iStock)
Love conquers all, including airport security. Back in 2010, a security screener at Newark Liberty International Airport left his post, allowing an unticketed man to slip under a security barrier. Fortunately, this interloper had no ill intentions: he simply went to plant a kiss on his girlfriend, who was catching a flight to California.
According to the Star-Ledger, the romantic rendezvous was caught on video surveillance cameras but only after the man had left the airport. Concerned that an unticketed, unscreened passenger managed to get into a secure area, airport officials shut down the terminal for several hours. The boyfriend pleaded guilty to the incident and was sentenced to community service. The TSA guard who left his post was suspended for 10 days.
3. A potentially explosive failure
Apparently, someone needs to show this picture to security screeners in Edmonton — repeatedly. (Photo: iStock)
It was almost an airport screening success story: security at Edmonton International Airport found a pipe bomb in the bag of a teenager about to board a flight to a Mexican vacation with his family (the CBC reports the teen had inadvertently packed the pipe bomb, which he’d built with a friend to blow up a shed for fun). But then, the incident descended into a near-comedic parade of security screw ups. For one, the airport screener didn’t know it was a pipe bomb when the X-ray machine detected it; the guard reportedly thought it was some kind of bong (hint: bongs generally don’t have fuses and the residue you find in them typically isn’t gunpowder). Also, the guards dangerously removed the explosive device from the X-ray machine instead of sounding an alarm and evacuating the area. They actually offered to give it back to the teenager (who, by the way, was allowed to board the flight with his family). And after sitting in an unsecured discard bin, the explosive device sat in someone’s office for four days. The teen was arrested upon his return and pleaded guilty to possession of an explosive device; he got a suspended sentence, a fine and community service. Meanwhile, Edmonton airport security got a very public black eye.
4. Failing to make the grade
This story won’t make you feel good about traveling through the airport in New Delhi, India. (Photo: iStock)
Here’s more proof that the guys hired to search for bombs might want to step up their bomb knowledge. The Daily Mail reported that 24 of 26 security officials hired at New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport flunked a basic test on aviation security in January. One of the reported questions on the test: What is RDX? (No, it’s not an intense new workout; RDX is a powerful explosive). Let’s hope those officials at least know what a pipe bomb looks like.
5. Umm… Is this you?
Customs agents might want to start looking a little more closely at passport photos. (Photo: iStock)
The Daily Mail also reports on a disturbing inability of customs screeners to detect fake passports. In a study, Australian passport office staff were asked to match a photo to a real-life person sitting right in front of them. The passport staff members were only able to detect a fake photo 15 percent of the time — about the same success rate as non-professionals. The study’s authors conclude people just aren’t good at picking out characteristics from a single photo and they suggest passports require multiple photos from different angles. Another possible solution: have passport ID photos checked by average bouncers at a big city nightclub.
6. No pass, no passport, no parents, no problem
“Rome Alone”: A boy once snuck aboard an international flight with no passport or ticket. (Illustration: iStock)
Sometimes security is so porous, even a child can evade it. In England, an 11-year-old boy boarded a plane from Manchester to Rome back in 2012. He was by himself and did not have a passport or a ticket and, according to The Herald, managed to slip through five security checks en route to Rome. Officials believe he’d mingled with other families at the security line and was waved through. He was only discovered mid-flight when passengers raised some questions. When the plane landed in Rome, he was kept aboard the plane and taken back to Manchester where his shocked mom, and the cops, were waiting for him.
7. Manchester bombs another security test
2012 was a bad year for Manchester’s airport. (Photo: iStock)
Another round of embarrassing headlines afflicted Manchester airport in 2012 when a security screener failed to identify a fake bomb during a security check. The Manchester Evening News reports the device was clearly designed to look like a bomb and it showed up on the X-ray screen. But the screener missed it anyway — reportedly because she was checking her work schedule at the time it went through — and the “bomb” cleared the check, which would have allowed the passenger to take it on board a plane. The security officer didn’t have to worry about her work schedule for a while; she was suspended.
8. Pat downs don’t catch everything
No matter how enthusiastically TSA pats people down, they might still miss something. (Illustration: iStock)
We learned that in 2013 when an undercover TSA inspector managed to sneak a fake bomb hidden in his pants through screening at Newark Liberty International Airport. According to the NY Post, not only did the inspector get through the magnetometer, he’d also received a pat down before being sent on his way. As the Post reported, devices small enough to fit in your parents are can cause a big enough bang to blow a hole through a plane’s fuselage.
9. Are those guns in your bag?
Apparently it’s possible to use commercial aircraft to run an international gun smuggling operation. A North Carolina man was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2012 for gun smuggling. Prosecutors say he’d buy guns in the U.S., put them in his checked bags and fly to England, where he’d sell the weapons.
Often (and unsurprisingly), those weapons ended up in criminal hands. The BBC reports the man smuggled 63 pistols on nine trips to the UK through airports in New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Manchester.
10. Is that a gun in your bag?
Sneaking a bunch of unassembled guns through checked baggage is bad. But sneaking in one assembled, and loaded, gun on a carry-on is downright frightening. Last week, Blake Alford told Atlanta’s 11 Alive News that he’d inadvertently packed a loaded handgun in his carry-on during his flight from Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport to Chicago. He says the security line in Atlanta was so hectic that day, none of the screeners noticed it. Alford says he didn’t know he was packing until he arrived at his hotel in Chicago. The TSA is investigating his claim, but Alford is letting the agency have it for apparently letting a man with easy access to a loaded gun onto a plane. He told the Atlanta TV station: “For the safety of the people of the United States – for the safety of the people of the world, actually — we need to tighten up.” Judging by all these scary security fails, few would disagree.
WATCH: 5 Airport Hacks You’ve Never Heard Of (That Work!)