TSA’s New Restrictions For Flight Crew Security

Filed Under: Security/TSA

After 9/11 we saw huge changes to airport security. Or perhaps most accurately, we saw a lot more theater around airport security, since virtually any test has shown how poorly the TSA performs with identifying prohibited items

Over the past several years we’ve seen some changes that have made the experience better. For example, for passengers there’s the TSA Pre-Check program, while for airline employees there’s the Known Crewmember program.

What Is Known Crewmember?

Known Crewmember allows select airline crews to enter the sterile area of the airport without undergoing a security screening. You might see a Known Crewmember checkpoint near the exit to the TSA checkpoint, as those who are registered just have to present their airline ID and government issued ID, and then can walk right into the terminal through the exit.

This makes some people uncomfortable, while others see the logic:

  • Some people feel more comfortable if everyone has to go through security
  • At the same time, if we trust these people to fly the planes we’re on, should we really be concerned about what they’re bringing onboard?

TSA Makes Sudden Known Crewmember Changes

Obviously this doesn’t impact the flying public, but rather just airline employees. Nonetheless it’s an interesting development, depending on how much you want to read into this.

This Saturday the TSA announced two new major restrictions for Known Crewmember access, both with just a few days notice.

New Uniform Policy

As of August 28, 2019, airline staff using the Known Crewmember checkpoints will need to be wearing their uniform to use the checkpoint.

Airline employees are allowed to use the checkpoint even when they’re not working, so airline employees view this policy change as a huge nuisance. If they want to use the checkpoint they’ll now have to change into their uniform, and then can change out of it right afterwards. One has to wonder how that makes us safer.

Frankly this just seems silly. It’s not like the TSA has a booklet that shows exactly how every uniform is supposed to look. So will they actually have any way of “verifying” if someone is wearing a real airline uniform, or…?

Furthermore, keep in mind some airline employees have had allergic reactions to uniforms, so they wear modified versions, including what’s sometimes just “business” clothes.

New Unpredictable Screening Procedures

One aspect of Known Crewmember is that you can be randomly searched. This makes perfect sense, since you want to add some element of unpredictability in case someone does actually have bad intentions. That brings us to the second policy change.

As of August 27, 2019, an automated change is being made to the Unpredictable Screening Procedures (USP). With this change, if someone is selected for a screening, then the system will maintain that, and they’ll be subjected to that screening for some amount of time.

In other words, if they’re selected for screening and then choose not to go through security, they can’t just go through another security checkpoint to avoid it.

This seems like a pretty common sense change, in my opinion.

What Is Prompting This Change?

The fact that this change was issued with so little notice, with no input from ALPA or A4A, and over a weekend, is making a lot of people wonder if there’s a specific threat that’s causing this policy change.

It’s the TSA, so I wouldn’t put it past them that this is just a policy change that they decided on randomly. But the timing and short notice does suggest there may be more to this.

While I’m by no means a security expert, one thing I’ve always found odd is how Known Crewmember access works. You just have to present your airline and government ID, and are then let through.

What I can’t wrap my head around is why they don’t instead require biometric data, which seems so much more secure. Why is the primary focus on how someone looks and what they’re wearing (especially when being screened by TSA agents, who aren’t always the sharpest), rather than based on fool-proof biometric data?

I’ll be curious to see if anything else emerges here regarding the logic of this change…

Comments
  1. This is just going to be an inconvenience for us and cause normal TSA lines to be a bit more congested. It’s a shame that instead of innovating security technology, the DHS just makes minor changes just to mix things up.

  2. With the amount of substance use my coworkers discussed when I was a ground handler and the poverty level wages that most contract ground handling companies pay, there is a substantial risk to known crew members and airport employees with ramp access to be exploited for their security free aircraft access.
    As much as I enjoy easy access past airport security, the TSA is far from a perfect system and there will still be incidents in the future.

  3. It’s not biometric because neither airline IDs nor most airports IDs biometric.

    Also KCM is one means of access. Many crews are badged especially for their home airports so accessing gate areas does not always need to be via security checkpoints. Can often be simply via employee parking shuttle ramp side.

  4. Feels to me that they wanted to implement a rule excluding off-duty crew from using known crew member, but the degree of coordination with the airlines would have been near impossible. So requiring a known crew uniform is a fairly easy way to, in effect, do the same thing.

    As someone comfortable with crew using known crew member in general, I like the changes.

  5. a few crew members got caught violating the rules, so this is the response

    Also, crew employment status is validated real-time at the KCM checkpoint

  6. Periodically, I get caught attempting to yet again, smuggle a bottle of water in my water bottle pocket on the backpack. It happens. While I’m having my hands swabbed, bag swabbed, lectured on the liquids rules, asked if I want to go back out with my water or let them take it, the Coca Cola guy is literally throwing cases of bottled water up on the belt. And no one bats an eye.

  7. “a few crew members got caught violating the rules, so this is the response”

    Also I do wonder if the handful of reports over the summer of intoxicated crew members getting on flights has caused this. Though obviously we realize they were in uniform, additional screening [or merely the potential for it] might potentially deter binge drinking prior to going on duty?

  8. Lucky

    Please do not publish articles like this. Some of the info is not for the general public.

    Thanks.

  9. Businesses (such as coca cola) go through just as much if not more security than your water bottle and not just that they are not the ones who are flying

  10. >if we trust these people to fly the planes we’re on, should we really be concerned about what they’re bringing onboard?

    I assume your line of thinking is “If Pilot A is willing to blow up the plane, then they could just crash the plane into a mountain.”

    1. KCM isn’t just for pilots, is it?
    2. Crewmember A qualifies for KCM, brings in weapon for Crewmember B working a different flight.

    Though as other people point out, there are plenty of other weak points, so this one thing really isn’t going to do much long term.

  11. There is more to it than simply displaying a badge. I’m afraid disinformation like this lends to a perception that resulted in the policy change.

  12. At the end of the day, ANYONE having access to a plane should be screened.

    Curious about ramp staff…the baggage handlers and fuel people…do they go through security too ? I’d be more concerned about them…. you know sneaking a bomb in and then putting it into the luggage hold…

    And considering Al-Qaeda spent all that time and money training people to fly planes… Couldn’t terrorist organizations like that also train and flip a flight attendant? It also doesn’t help that all this information is out there in a public forum !

  13. not screening 100% means you are really screening 0%

    it is appalling to watch a line of people walk into the secure area of the terminal, ‘crewmembers’ or not, just because they have a lanyard. they also happen to have roller and carryon bags full of ????? metal ????? liquids ????? could even be drugs guns explosives.

    (happens daily at CLE KCM lane, where a tired TSA agent on their cell phone pauses candy crush long enough to glance at airline ID badges, scanning them on to a secure 10 inch Netbook computer from the the 2010 era. The line moves so fast that nobody being screened even has to stop walking… they just slow down a bit at the “screener.’

    These are not diplomats, and in 95%+ of cases have no military grade security clearances either.

    Last year, I had a crewmember that I just met on the shuttle bus to the airport grin and OFFER to take liquids exceeding the allowance in their bag for me so that I didn’t have to check a bag. wait. what?

    scary to imagine what WILL happen when an overworked, mentally unstable, or suicidal off or on duty flight attendant or janitor abuses this even further. Or someone on the brink of financial collapse is offered a big bribe…. or someone is blackmailed.

  14. Never understood all the security theatrics over there in the US. One would think there are some best practices here and there around the world that one could learn from and replicate.
    To me Singapore still stands out with having no lines in immigration and security while inspections are thorough and done by skilled people.

  15. If my job involved flying and I had to undergo security every day it would get tiresome and tedious but it is part of a job.

    I’ve worked at positions with security clearances, some very high level, did that get me a pass through security? Nope. And did it come with burden? Yup, if I wanted the job I had to undergo random physical checks, polygraphs, financial disclosure forms, etc.

    If your job is flying you should have to undergo various security jobs, at a minimum on a random basis but no one should be excepted from them all the time.

    A few years ago we were flying back from Europe, can’t recall the airport, maybe Brussels. Anyhow since we were flying business or first we got a scannable pass to bypass much of the security line. In front of us was a flight crew that couldn’t make it through (not sure why). They weren’t too happy when our pass worked.

    Anyhow we met up with them again at the baggage scanner and one FA in particular was a real pain. We had no trouble going through it but I found it amusing how the security guy was chastising her for not following procedures. She had one of those entitled, the rules don’t apply to me attitudes. Apparently the rules there did apply to her.

    Of course, she ended up being a FA on our flight.

    And yeah, as I mentioned above, people think it shouldn’t apply to them. In my security jobs there were a lot of people saying “we shouldn’t be subjected to this because we’ve already been screened”. Unfortunately some bad people get into certain jobs and do bad things. Fortunately that hasn’t been much of an issue here but it could. And screening for alcohol should be a mandatory thing before allowing anyone in the cockpit.

  16. Ben, it is not just ID’s that are required. Each member has a number (Like a UPC) and that is then submitted into a “Known crewmember” database that each participating airline maintains through a TSA secure site. You cannot pass through until your face pops up through the data base.
    The uniform rule existed in the past and then was modified. I used to simply change when I was through whenever I was not officially traveling.

  17. You do realize, right, that crew passes an FBI background check before being hired, right? You don’t just flash your ID and go. We’ve already BEEN screened–at a higher level than any of the flying public.

  18. For those concerned that crewmembers are “bypassing” security, this is not the case. We are always subject to random searches and still limited as to what we can bring through. What would be really silly would be for your pilots to have to stand in the security line for an hour, only to be forced to remove shoes, belts, etc, in front of the passengers on the flights they are about to operate. Yet this scene happened frequently before KCM was widely adopted. There absolutely should be a separate security line for crew and that’s exactly what KCM is. The new uniform requirements are silly. Here’s why: I fly for a part 121 airline that requires me to frequently commercial into position. I may have to get from my home to, say, Incheon South Korea over a period of two or three days before I actually operate a flight. That travel time is work for me (I am away from my home and family). However, in addition to being uncomfortable and inconvenient, forcing me to wear a uniform during my travels is a personal security issue for me. Everybody now knows that I am a credentialed crewmember and that makes me somewhat of a target. I would much prefer to move through the airport incognito. To me it’s safer and just happens to be more comfortable. Another benefit is that my uniform is fresher for when I’m actually operating a flight.

  19. It was alluded that the crew member’s photo is matched against their id when inserted into the system but that was only mentioned by one crew member.

    If someone holding a piece of plastic can pass through “security” without any biometric identification (a picture doesn’t cut it for me as people never look like their picture so that anyone who has a similar appearance will be passed through) then there is no real identification and thus no security. And wearing a uniform isn’t much better. Remember De Caprio in “Catch Me If You Can” flying as aircrew because he had a badge and a uniform.

    When you pass security into the United Arab Emirates you have an retina scan biometric. Takes only a second or two.

    All airside personnel should have to pass security and a biometric identification before being passed to airside.

  20. “One has to wonder how this makes us safer”

    Are you in the NSA or CIA? How do you know they haven’t uncovered a plot that terrorists are going to use a known crew member badge and cannot procure the uniform? Maybe the uniforms have safeguards on them you don’t know about?

  21. There are few reasons for this and none are acceptable. One likely scenario is fairness. It is possible some people have complained about a select group being able to go through wothout uniform. Another is the new FAA head pusinh his corporate airline executive mentality on crews by encouraging such an action by TSA. As for the pathetic folks who like this notion, one has to wonder why you like wearing the uniform so much. Andcas for people not at work. Jumpseating is exactly for pilots who are not yet at work or done with it. There is no logical reason to require the uniform.

  22. “What would be really silly would be for your pilots to have to stand in the security line for an hour, only to be forced to remove shoes, belts, etc, in front of the passengers on the flights they are about to operate.“

    I’m struggling to see how that is any more or less “silly” than all the rest of us having to do the same. Either it’s necessary or it isn’t. You might even want to have different (more intrusive?) screening for employees — more frequent access might equal more frequent opportunities? Or more sensibly you might have the same security (which meets the minimum standard) for *everyone*.

    The well-known trope in terrorism is that as soon as one group is exempt, they become the weapon of choice. The Israelis never used to search Palestinian women because they were never terrorists. Guess what happened next? In Peru, why was it that children were used by the Shining Path as suicide bombers?

  23. Biometrics really? Next lets volunteer blood samples and DNA. If someone breached security and this was the cause for the change thats on TSA. They let it slip past like so many other things through normal security. They are only successful at catching 20% of prohibited items. Whatever caused this abrupt change was a knee jerk reaction on someone’s part to throw another bandaid on a flawed system.

  24. Obviously your article is bias against the great people of TSA that protect our nation every day. It is unnecessary to take a cheap shop at them. Simple, Trust all airline employes but verify to prevent any criminal intent. KCM is a privilege not a right.

  25. Don’t spew misinformation like this. KCM is not a way to bypass security, it is simply a different screening tool and there’s more to it than just “presenting your badge”. It is connected to all participating airlines and verifies employment status/clearance in real-time. Your focus (and the TSA’s focus) should be on the airport personnel with unrestricted access to aircraft who pass through secure areas with absolutely NO screening whatsoever. These folks are the real threats to our air transportation system. The clothing a particular crew member wears should have absolutely no bearing on their ability to pass through this alternate means of screening.

  26. @Brad

    Biometrics (such as a fingerprint or retina scan) do not violate your privacy not are they invasive like a blood test so don’t confuse the issue.

    A simple card is not a secure system for ANY AIRSIDE PERSONNEL.

    ALL airside personnel should have to pass a biometric test to ensure that they are who their ID claims they are. Valid ID firmly linked to the biometrics and fully secured should tighten security immensely. Biometric tests take only a few seconds.

    @Ian

    As long as the ID is securely linked to the person presenting it then it is a valid security check. But it sure seems that there is no link other than “flashing a badge”. That is NOT security.

  27. As always, TSA is a joke and has a number of rules that have no relevance to safety, but are just inconveniences. Making a rule on where someone can go through security based on the clothes they are wearing is not only laughable but discriminating!

  28. @Azamaraal I can tell by your response that you are not a part of the program. It’s not flashing a badge, it’s far more than that. You know who literally just flashes a badge and gets to walk through? the TSA.

  29. This is part of an airport security program and under the terms is confidential information. If the author is a KCM holder you violated TSA security requirments and can be removed from the program. This is not intended for public information.

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