TSA Known Crew Member Program: Security Risk?
Did you know that many flight attendants and pilots don’t have to go through security at US airports? Maybe you did, or maybe you didn’t, but I thought it would be an interesting topic to discuss, especially in light of some recent incidents we’ve seen.
What is the TSA Known Crewmember Program?
The Known Crewmember program (often abbreviated as KCM) allows select airline pilots and flight attendants to enter the sterile area of the airport without going through the standard security screening process.
The current iteration of the KCM program has been around since 2011. The program is a joint initiative of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), airline lobby group Airlines for America (A4A), and the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) .
You may see a known crew member checkpoint near the exit from the TSA checkpoint, as those who are checked in only need to show their airline ID and ID card. government-issued ID, then can enter the terminal directly through the exit. You may also notice that pilots and flight attendants often wear small badges that identify them as such.
A few more things to note about the TSA Known Crewmember program:
- Pilots and air hostesses eligible US airlines must specifically enroll in this program, so it’s not something airline employees automatically get
- Pilots and flight attendants do not need to travel for work to use checkpoints
- Pilots and flight attendants do not need to be in uniform to use these checkpoints, but if they are not in uniform, additional ID is required
- There are Unpredictable Screening Procedures (USP) in place, whereby those using the Known Crew Member checkpoint may be subject to a random security check; however, this only happens a very small percentage of the time
- The logic of the program is that airline employees should be trustworthy and it otherwise reduces congestion at security checkpoints; as long as an employee’s identity can be verified, that’s what’s most important with this process
Do airline employees have to go through security?
It’s interesting how different people react to knowing that pilots and flight attendants don’t have to go through airport security. I see both sides of the argument.
On the one hand, pilots and flight attendants keep the air transport system running, so we should be able to trust that they will make the right choice with what they bring on board. Additionally, tests have shown how ineffective the TSA is at stopping weapons, and airport security screening is ultimately about risk assessment. It can be assumed that known crew members are among the lowest risk people passing through airports.
On the other hand, we have seen a number of incidents over time where employees have abused the concept of known crew member. We’ve even seen recent stories of flight attendants on furlough work as drug dealersand using their known crew member credentials to avoid security.
Keep in mind that these cases only occur in the small percentage of situations where an airline employee is randomly selected for a check. I can’t even imagine how many people get away with it. Forget guns and all, but I suspect there are a sizable number of airline employees smuggling drugs through known crew member checkpoints.
Granted, the TSA is about making sure guns don’t get on planes, not about drugs. At the same time, the current system almost seems like an open invitation to smuggling, and I imagine that’s something other government organizations would be concerned about.
Is it time to apply some restrictions to known crew members?
If there were any changes to be made to the known crew member program, it seems like there are two different directions one could go.
One direction would be to continue to allow pilots to use known crew member checkpoints, but not flight attendants. This is not meant to be negative about flight attendants at all, but the reality is that pilots have a lot more to lose than flight attendants.
Pilots spend years and potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars to land their jobs and are paid very well. They work on a seniority system, and if they were caught with anything, their license would be revoked and their racing career would be over. They couldn’t just get a comparable job in another industry.
There are of course a lot of career flight attendants, but there are also new flight attendants with no experience, who are not paid very well and who just want a fun job for a few years. If they lose their flight attendant job, there are all sorts of other jobs that pay the same.
I think the second direction might be to restrict the known crew member program to those who have been with an airline for a certain number of years. For example, if you’ve been with an airline for a decade, you’ve shown your commitment to your career and aren’t there just temporarily.
I’m just throwing those things in here, and I’m not suggesting that any of them shouldn’t be implemented. But with several recent stories of flight attendants trying to smuggle drugs, it seems like it’s at least worth considering some sort of restrictions.
At the end of the line
Many people are surprised to learn that pilots and flight attendants can bypass security checkpoints at airports, thanks to the Known Crewmember program. I don’t have a strong opinion on this one way or another, although it seems there are more and more stories of flight attendants getting get caught smuggling drugs.
The Known Crew Member checkpoint is the perfect way to do this, as you don’t have to go through security. A small percentage of the time passengers will be selected for further screening, but that’s rare, and that’s why people take the risk.
What do you think of the TSA’s Known Crewmember program? Should airline employees go through security?