The TSA was expected to implement unpopular changes to what’s referred to as the Known Crewmember Program (KCM) this coming Wednesday but has been forced to temporarily abandon the idea after facing a big backlash. The KCM allows flight attendants and pilots for U.S.-based airlines to effectively bypass normal TSA security checkpoints by showing their airline ID and government ID but the new access requirements would have made it a lot harder for crew members to make use of the program.
On Saturday, the TSA announced that only crew members who were in uniform would be allowed to use the KCM program. And while the TSA didn’t actually specify whether crew members had to be on duty, the effect of the policy shift meant that only flight attendants and pilots flying for work would be allowed to bypass normal passenger screening lanes.
Crew members have been able to access the KCM access points out of uniform since 2015 – whether travelling on company business or for pleasure – so this sudden change in policy represented quite a big loss in their privileges. It even got one major flight attendant union wondering whether the change had been introduced because of a credible threat to aviation security – especially, considering there were reports both Denver and Houston implemented the change early.
Fortunately, a slightly less sinister reason was behind the move. The Known Crewmember program is a joint initiative between the TSA, an airline lobby group called Airlines 4 America and the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) – the agreement for crew members to bypass normal screening processes is based on the fact that crew members are much less of a threat to aviation security than the general public.
Unfortunately, it would appear that there have been isolated cases of flight attendants and pilots abusing the KCM program – that’s not to say there’s ever been a threat to security but it appears that some crew members have been smuggling things through checkpoints that aren’t meant to be on planes.
So the TSA decided to restrict access to the program and beef up random searches in an attempt to clamp down on the abuse.
However, the TSA says it is now “delaying” the implementation of this controversial policy change, although the agency doesn’t give any indication of how long that delay might be. The change of heart comes after a fierce backlash from industry and instead, the TSA will work with partners to “determine alternative or additional measures to mitigate risk to the KCM system pending further TSA review as part of an ongoing audit.”
Random enhanced screening, though, will continue to go into effect.
This is a big win for pilots and flight attendants, although, it’s worth considering that changes were only being made because the system was being abused.