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Airline worker may have tried to slip security at Pittsburgh airport

Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Passengers wind their way through the lines at the main security checkpoint at the Pittsburgh International Airport, Wednesday, July 27, 2011.

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Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
 

The Transportation Security Administration is investigating whether an airline employee breached security by using her credentials to bypass checkpoints before flying out of Pittsburgh International Airport, an agency spokeswoman said.

The unidentified ramp worker also is in hot water with her employer, American Eagle Airlines. She violated airline rules on Sunday by going on to the ramp area from the landside terminal and taking a company vehicle to the airside terminal where the boarding gates are, spokesman Matt Miller said.

“We're confident it was an oversight, that it was something done without any ill intent,” Miller said.

If the employee did breach security, it would be Pittsburgh's first breach in more than seven years, the TSA said.

According to the agency, another airline worker spotted the woman, who was wearing street clothes and had a boarding pass and carry-on bag, in a restricted area at the airport about 2:30 p.m. and notified authorities. She was on an elevator that required riders to swipe an access card and punch in a security code.

Miller could not say whether the woman was on duty or preparing to board a flight for work-related reasons.

Art Kosatka, a former TSA policy director who heads Maryland-based consulting firm Transecure Inc., doesn't think it matters.

“It doesn't matter if she's going for business or pleasure. If she's traveling, she should go through security,” Kosatka said.

At the same time, Kosatka said, “She's not a threat. She would have gone through all the necessary background checks to get her credentials. But process-wise, she made a mistake.”

Kosatka suspects such incidents aren't all that rare but often don't come to light. In this case, “Someone ratted her out.”

After reviewing security footage and consulting with American Eagle Airlines, TSA and Allegheny County police stopped the woman as she tried to board a Continental Express flight to Newark, N.J., scheduled to depart about 6 p.m. TSA agents screened her and allowed her to rebook her flight.

Agency spokeswoman Ann Davis said the TSA would “take appropriate action, pending our findings after all of the facts are reviewed.”

The agency could levy civil penalties, including fines, against the woman and the airline.

Pittsburgh's last security breach occurred in June 2005, officials said, when a woman squeezed through a narrow gap between a checkpoint metal detector and an X-ray machine and continued to the airside terminal, where she boarded a flight to Houston.

The nearest TSA screener was occupied with another passenger who tried to sneak through at the same time.

Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

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