A man was arrested at Chicago O’Hare Airport this weekend after having allegedly spent three months airside in the terminal without being detected.
Man arrested after living at O’Hare
A 36 year old man was arrested Saturday, and has been charged with felony criminal trespass to a restricted area of an airport and misdemeanor theft. He has been banned from entering the airport, and bail has been set at $1,000.
The man flew from Los Angeles to Chicago on October 19, 2020, and hadn’t left the airport’s secure zone since. How did he finally get caught? On Saturday, two United Airlines employees approached the man and asked to see his identification, having realized he had spent a lot of time in the terminal. At that point the man showed them an airport ID badge that he had been wearing on a lanyard around his neck.
However, the badge belonged to an operations manager who had reported that badge missing on October 26. At that point 911 was called, at which point the man was taken into custody.
Why did the man stay at the airport?
This is the part of the story that’s tough to figure out. Why would anyone want to spend a few months living at O’Hare? The man was allegedly “scared to go home due to COVID,” and that’s why he decided to spend months at the airport. He survived by asking other passengers to give him money for food. Apparently he had a place to stay and roommates in California.
In many ways the explanation of what happened raises more questions than anything else. Arguably the most dangerous part of the travel experience nowadays is being at airports rather than on planes, given that the latter at least has much better air filtration.
We have sometimes heard of people living in terminals due to entry restrictions for countries changing, leaving them without options. However, that wasn’t the case here, since this was a domestic flight.
We also sometimes hear of homeless people trying to live at airports, but that’s almost always landside, since they typically don’t purchase tickets.
One other story that comes to mind is that of the serial stowaway from a few years back, who would constantly find a way to get past security and onto flights, even without a ticket. She even did this several times at O’Hare Airport.
Was there any security risk here?
The judge in the case expressed disbelief about how someone could live in a “secure” part of the airport undetected:
“So if I understand you correctly, you’re telling me that an unauthorised, non-employee individual was allegedly living within a secure part of the O’Hare airport terminal from 19 October 2020 to 16 January 2021, and was not detected? I want to understand you correctly.
Based upon the need for airports to be absolutely secure so that people feel safe to travel, I do find those alleged actions do make him a danger to the community.”
Personally I’m not really surprised:
- Just because the airside area is “secure” doesn’t mean that tabs are being kept on everyone, but rather just that they’ve been screened and that they either had a valid arriving or departing boarding pass
- You see people sleep overnight in airport terminals all the time
- Many airport employees can be seen hanging out in the terminal daily, so it’s not necessarily unusual to observe the same person every day
- It has been even harder to identify people when everyone is wearing masks
Personally I don’t find that detail surprising at all, and I’m not shocked he was able to live at O’Hare for three months undetected. The real question is why he’d want to do that…
A man has been arrested after living at Chicago O’Hare Airport for three months, allegedly because he was afraid to fly home due to coronavirus. I’m not sure I follow the logic, but that sure is a strange situation. The man ended up being arrested on Sunday, after he was approached by employees and asked to show his ID. At that point it was determined that he had a lanyard with a stolen airport employee ID.
What do you make of this situation?