TSA agents think the crew-member lane at airports is a huge security flaw that staff abuse for smuggling

  • TSA agents criticized the special crew-member lane as a safety risk after smuggling incidents.

  • Four flight attendants were charged with smuggling $8 million using the lane at JFK.

  • Critics say flight crews should undergo thorough screening to prevent abuse of privileges.

Airport security officers have concerns over the special crew-member lanes that enable flight attendants and airline pilots to bypass typical passenger screening procedures.

The lanes were implemented in 2011 under the Known Crewmember Program — a joint initiative by the Transportation Security Administration, Airlines for America, and the Air Line Pilots Association, International.

However, former and current TSA agents told Business Insider the lanes were "terrible" and that cabin crews could be "a bigger flight risk than the passengers themselves."

Criticism of the KCM is mounting, particularly after four flight attendants were accused of smuggling millions of dollars in drug money out of the US using the lane at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

Charlie Hernandez, 42, Sarah Valerio Pujols, 24, Emmanuel Torres, 34, and Jarol Fabio, 35, were arrested earlier this month. Prosecutors said they managed to smuggle $8 million in "bulk cash" between 2014 and 2023.

Delta Air Lines confirmed to NBC News that two defendants worked for it.

Flight attendants can be paid off by drug dealers to smuggle illegal substances or cash and tend to be found only when they are subjected to random searches, the New York Post reported.

"It stands to reason that this [smuggling by flight attendants] is commonly done," Dennis Ring, a lawyer who represented a convicted flight attendant named Marsha Gay Reynolds, told the outlet.

There have been multiple instances of airline crew being caught after trying to "abuse these privileges," Ben Schlappig wrote in an article for the travel site One Mile at a Time.

"Of course, a vast majority of airline employees follow the rules, though with the volume of people using these checkpoints, there are going to be some bad apples," Schlappig said.

'KCM should be eliminated'

TSA agents told BI these stories of cabin-crew wrongdoing "completely breach the trust that we put in them." BI spoke with seven agents who were granted anonymity because of strict internal rules about talking to the media. Their identities are known to us.

One agent said the KCM was "terrible" and that some of the crew members they had interacted with had "worse attitudes" than passengers who go through regular screening. Another described crew members as "cocky."

When passengers bring something they shouldn't through security, more often than not, it's a mistake, another agent said.

"Crew, on the other hand, know exactly what they are doing," they said.

"I truly do think KCM should be eliminated," one agent said.

"Time and time again, we have seen that the crew members get so much 'trust' just because they're crew and they're the ones doing the illegal shit," this person added.

Most agents said they believed crew personnel should have their own lines and be screened separately but that security measures right now were far too lenient.

An Airlines for America spokesperson told BI that "the safety and security of our passengers and crews is the top priority of US airlines."

The KCM "is a TSA-approved program that has been in successful operation for 12 years," they added.

"Transportation Security Officers conduct security screening for prohibited items at airport checkpoints and checked baggage screening," a TSA spokesperson told BI.

"If they find something suspicious, such as items that could be illegally transported, they alert local law enforcement, who in turn works with our criminal investigators in our investigative division and other federal partners," they added.

The Air Line Pilots Association, International, did not return a request for comment.

Bad apples and loopholes

Caleb Harmon-Marshall, a former TSA agent who spent eight years in that role and the founder of the newsletter Gate Access, told BI that the KCM has been controversial since it was implemented in 2011.

"If you're seeing all of these incidents, why has nothing been done to correct it?" he said.

Harmon-Marshall said there's a "low-key love-hate relationship" between cabin crew and TSA officers, with the latter often critical of the KCM and flight attendants enjoying the privilege.

For example, there's no limit on how much liquid they can bring in their hand luggage.

However, Harmon-Marshall said airlines should do a better job of educating their crews about the dangers of the program, particularly when a flight crew is walking around in their uniforms.

'"When you have a layover internationally, sometimes it's dangerous for you to broadcast that your flight attendant because people will come up to you and they'll try to offer you something," he said.

Being offered tens or maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars to smuggle something could be tempting, Harmon-Marshall said, especially if they're struggling financially.

"And sometimes it's dangerous situations where they'll threaten your family," he added. "It's very scary."

Harmon-Marshall posted a TikTok asking cabin crew members and TSA agents about what they thought about the KCM, and many people who responded said the system should change.

"I get randomly selected seven out of 10 times," one person who said they were a crew member commented. "I would prefer to just have a crew lane to have my bags scanned. It would make my already unpaid time easier to plan for."

Harmon-Marshall said the KCM was a great tool and that he still believed flight crew should be given a certain amount of trust because they'd earned it.

But the loopholes make him "uneasy," he said, adding that it's time for the agencies behind the KCM to "rethink things."

"I think that passengers should be very aware of the loose ends that some of these programs have," he said. "And KCM has some, and unfortunately, one bad apple ruins the bunch."

Read the original article on Business Insider