It has emerged that on 3 January at Atlanta’s Hartsfield–Jackson International Airport, a passenger with a firearm was able to board an aircraft despite having passed through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints. Atlanta is the world’s busiest airport with 104 million passengers passing through it annually.
Two TSA officers have been fired following the incident which saw a traveller pass through standard TSA security checks and board a Delta flight to Japan with a pistol. It is believed that standard TSA operating procedures were not followed. On the traveller’s arrival in Tokyo they alerted airport staff at the Tokyo Narita International Airport and cooperated fully with Japanese authorities. This may suggest that the firearm was taken aboard unintentionally. The passenger who has not be identified reportedly returned to the US on the same day as they arrived. Reports on whether the passenger was a man or a woman are conflicting.
The TSA were quick to respond, relieving officers of duty and issuing a statement to say that the “TSA will hold those responsible appropriately accountable.” TSA employees have been working without pay since 22 December, amid what has now become the longest (partial) federal shutdown in US history. The TSA deny that the shutdown is responsible for the incident and that there is any related drop in security and note that the checkpoint in Atlanta was fully staffed at the time of the incident.
TSA Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs Michael Bilello took to twitter to respond to the incident and said:
Security standards have NOT and will NOT be compromised. TSA has and will continue to maintain security standards at our nation’s airports. #NotOnOurWatch
— Michael Bilello (@TSA_Bilello) January 11, 2019
A statement from the TSA said: “The national unscheduled absence rate of TSA staff on Thursday, January 3, 2019, was 4.8% compared to 6.3% last year, Thursday, January 4, 2018. So in fact, the national call out rate was higher a year ago than this year on that date.” While TSA officers have been working unpaid since the beginning of the shutdown TSA administrator David Pekoske has announced that they will receive a $500 bonus payment “in recognition of their hard work during yet another busy holiday travel season, maintaining the highest security standards.”