Aside from the obvious benefits like getting paid to travel the world and the ability to fly on standby non-rev tickets for pretty much next to nothing, there’s another sweet perk that flight attendants based in the United States get to enjoy – the power to saunter through a TSA airport checkpoint with virtually zero checks.
But flight attendants are becoming increasingly concerned that this well-loved benefit could be stripped from them if a small minority of crew members don’t stop breaking the rules in some pretty speculator ways.
The latest example is that of an off-duty flight attendant for Mesa Airlines who was caught with what is alleged to be 3.33 pounds of fentanyl wrapped around her abdomen as she tried to get through the crew member expedited screening lane at San Diego Airport last month.
Terese Lee White faces a federal charge of possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute following her arrest on October 4 when she tried to use what is known as the ‘Known Crewmember’ lane to board a flight to Boston.
But abuse of the Known Crewmember of KCM channel is already said to be so high that the Transporation Security Administration (TSA) has significantly increased its use of ‘unpredictable screening procedures’ – essentially increasing the number of pilots and flight attendants pulled at random for standard TSA screening.
White was pulled out of the KCM channel at random and made to walk through the same kind of x-ray arch that other passengers must use – within minutes, the package of what is believed to be fentanyl with a street value of more than $250,000 was found, and White had been taken into custody.
A couple of days later, the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) – which is not only the largest flight attendant union in the United States but also represents crew members at Mesa – had issued an urgent bulletin imploring its members to comply with KCM rules.
The union was quick to remind flight attendants that the KCM line is “a privilege, not a right” and that compliance with the rules was essential if they wanted to be able to continue using KCM lanes.
The program was originally set up as a joint initiative between industry trade group Airlines for America (A4A) and the Air Line Pilots Association before the scope was widened to include additional employee groups including flight attendants.
Developed back in 2011, this isn’t the first time that flight attendants have been ‘reminded’ to comply with the rules or face the possibility of KCM benefits being revoked.
There are several key rules – don’t try to take anything through that would ordinarily be prohibited, don’t try to take someone else’s property through and don’t use the KCM lane if you’re traveling internationally on vacation.
The AFA says the TSA “continues to see a steady rate of KCM compliance violations” in all three of these rules.
On at least one occasion since January 2020, a firearm was discovered in a crew member’s bag in a foreign country where weapons are highly regulated, the AFA claimed. The crew member was arrested and thrown into prison while the case was investigated.
“As a result of these and other continuing compliance violations, the TSA is taking actions to improve compliance,” the union warned its members last month.
Random checks have been increased to such a rate that some flight attendants claim KCM is already becoming next to useless. The alternative, of course, is that KCM is withdrawn altogether.
The one way out of this is for the TSA to stop finding compliance violations during random checks – we’ll have to wait and see how that turns out.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.
We all saw Jackie Brown.. the how-to-guide for stewardess smuggling.
Why is no one asking the bigger, more important question?
Why are TSA staff looking for drugs? As far as I know, drugs have never brought down an airplane or been used to hijack an aircraft.
TSA agents are glorified mall cops. They are not trained and sworn law enforcement officers. Their purpose is to keep weapons off of planes. Until they master that, they have no business expanding their scope into anything else.
I don’t care that a passenger is carrying drugs. That’s their problem. DEA and the police should deal with that with the laws and tools that they already have. What I don’t like is a TSA agent being distracted by drugs or cash, which allows someone to sneak a weapon on board.