Missed boarding pass raises new concerns

August 8, 2011 2:47:28 PM PDT
A 14-year-old boy was able to fly across the country, even though the airline thought he skipped his flight.

As far as Continental Airlines is concerned, that passenger never checked in at the gate. He was listed as no-show, but the fact is he was holding a boarding pass and got on board flight 1587 from Newark to San Francisco. More troubling, although the airline had no record of the passenger flying, his bag went anyway. And that's the biggest concern here.

How do we know all these details? Because that traveler was my son.

James Martin, 14, showed a boarding pass at the gate at Newark International Airport when he boarded Continental flight 1587 to San Francisco.

He'd gone thru all the checkpoints. It wasn't until he arrived to check in for his return flight that Martin was told there was no record of his ever getting on that outgoing flight in Newark, so the rest of his reservation had been cancelled.

Continental acknowledges there was an error, without being specific. We spoke with a number of security experts.

"If he's not identified and clearly no one had knowledge of him being on the plane, then that would be a major breakdown in security protocol," security expert Sal Lifrieri said.

The airline, now, United/Continental, gave us this statement:

"We have multiple levels of security in place, both at the airport and on board the aircraft. Our team in Newark is reviewing the situation and working to correct what happened."

The airline declined to say if it does head counts. Had that been done, security experts say it would have been clear there was a problem.

"It would have been a simple counting of noses, as we say. How many people do we have sitting in the seats? How many ticket stubs, how many boarding passes do we have? Wait, something's wrong here. Let's resolve this before we pull away from the gate,'" security expert Bill Daly said.

There's a bigger security concern. James Martin checked a bag. He showed his claim ticket to us. Remember Continental had no record that he got on Flight 1587. An official told us the airline, like most U.S. carriers, does not do baggage matches to passengers on domestic flights, just international flights. And that comes as a surprise to New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, who now has questions for the Transportation Safety Administration.

"We're going to have to raise it with TSA because I think most people in Congress believe if you have a bag and not a passenger, it gets pulled off," Senator Menendez said. "It it's a good principle for international flights. It's a good principle for domestic flights."


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