And by “contradictory,” here’s some blockbuster news: Although the X-ray and metal detector rigmarole is mandatory for pilots and flight attendants, many other airport workers, including those with regular access to aircraft — to cabins, cockpits, galleys and freight compartments — are exempt. That’s correct. Uniformed pilots cannot carry butter knives onto an airplane, yet apron workers and contract ground support staff — cargo loaders, baggage handlers, fuelers, cabin cleaners, caterers — can, as a matter of routine, bypass TSA inspection entirely.
All workers with airside privileges are subject to fingerprinting, a 10-year criminal background investigation and crosschecking against terror watch lists. Additionally they are subject to random physical checks by TSA. But here’s what one apron worker at New York’s Kennedy airport recently told me:
“All I need is my Port Authority ID, which I swipe through a turnstile. The ‘sterile area’ door is not watched over by any hired security or by TSA. I have worked at JFK for more than three years now and I have yet to be randomly searched. Really the only TSA presence we notice is when the blue-shirts come down to the cafeteria to get food.”