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Simple Slight of Hand by Would-be Terrorists Allows ANYONE to Board an Airplane Undetected

Instructions on How to Evade Terrorist Watch List Easily Available on the Internet

Schumer Proposes Three Simple Steps to Stop Fakes: Encrypt Bar Codes on Boarding Passes, Require ID Checks at Gates, Make Forging a Boarding Pass a Felony

Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer said that despite efforts to beef up airport security in the United States and around the world, wouldbe terrorists, following simple steps, can easily forge a boarding pass, elude TSA boarding pass checkingagents, and board a plane even though they are on the nofly list. With the proliferation of online checkin, the convenience allows boarding passes to be easily forged and copied. If a possible terrorist is able to obtain a stolen credit card and purchase a fake ticket that person can then easily board a plane following these simple steps. Schumer warned that these steps are easily found on the internet and have been sitting out there unaddressed for years. Schumer today outlined a situation in which anyone with basic computer skills can print a fake boarding pass and avoid scrutiny by airport security, and laid out a detailed plan to combat this hazard.


"It's unbelievable that after years of recalibrating aviation and airport security so that we can keep a close eye on suspicious individuals, this enormous hole remains in the system. It has rendered the terrorist watch list nearly useless," Schumer said. "The terrorists are always looking for our weakest link and we can't leave any stone unturned."


Schumer today laid out the following scenario in which someone on the terrorist watch list can get through airline security undetected:


  1. Joe Flier (whose name is on the terrorist watch list) buys a ticket online in the name of Joe Thompson using a stolen credit card. Joe Thompson is not listed on the terrorist watch list.


  1. Joe Flier then prints his "Joe Thompson" boarding pass at home, and then electronically alters it (either by scanning or altering the original image, depending on the airline system and the technology he uses at home) to create a second almost identical boarding pass under the name Joe Flier, his name.


  1. Joe Flier then goes to the airport and goes through security with his real ID and the FAKE boarding pass. The name and face match his real drivers license. The airport employee matches the name and face to the real ID.


  1. The TSA guard at the magnetometer checks to make sure that the boarding pass looks legitimate as Joe Flier goes through. He/she does not scan it into the system, so there is still no hint that the name on the fake boarding pass is not the same as the name on the reservation.


  1. Joe Flier then goes through the gate into his plane using the real Joe Thompson boarding pass for the gate's computer scanner. He is not asked for ID again to match the name on the scanner, so the fact that he does not have an ID with that name does not matter. [Since Joe Thompson doesn't actually exist it does not coincide with a name on the terrorist watch list] Joe Flier boards the plane, no questions asked.


Online checkin has proliferated in recent years allowing customers a more convenient option of printing their boarding passes at home, rather than waiting online for a ticket clerk or a checkin kiosk at the airport. Most airlines have adopted the practice and experts expect that online checkin will only continue to grow in the coming months and years to over half of passengers.


A 2007 TSA report found "the vulnerabilities associated with fake boarding passes are well known." It noted an Indiana University student in 2006 set up a website to prove it could be done. Encryption in a boardingpass bar code would make forgeries easy to spot

To combat this scenario, which revealed in published reports last week, Schumer today proposed three simple steps to close this loophole immediately.


  • Require another ID Check at the Gate Schumer said the TSA should require a second identification check against a board boarding pass scan at the gate to ensure that the name on the scanned boarding pass, the passengers identification, and the person boarding the plane are the same.  This proposal would replicate the security precautions taken immediately after September 11th, but are no longer in practice. Anybody trying to board a flight would present their boarding pass and identification together two times, upon going through the security line and then again when boarding the plane, foiling the "Joe Flier" scenario outlined above.


  • Fast Track TSA Program to Encrypt Boarding Pass Barcodes Schumer today called on the TSA to fast track its program to better encrypt boarding pass barcodes. The TSA originally launched a pilot program in 2007 to better protect boarding passes against forgeries. Tests could begin at a few airports this year.


  • Make Forging a Boarding Pass a Felony - Schumer today unveiled introducing new legislation to make it a federal crime to alter or fake a boarding pass or other travel document in order to conceal the bearer's identity and deceive the travel agencies into letting him on a plane or train. The crime would be the same as the crime of making a fake id.