The two largest pilot’s unions in the United States have become so frustrated with TSA airport security procedures for aircrew that they have threatened to ‘overwhelm’ normal passenger security lanes, which could result in delayed and cancelled flights.
The warning came in two separate letters to TSA administrator David Pekoske from the Allied Pilots Association, and the Air Line Pilots Association after the Department of Homeland Security confirmed that it was taking over an expedited screening program for aircrew.
The existing Known Crewmember (KCM) program allows aircrew and other designated airline employees to skip past normal TSA security lines but concerned with rule violations, the TSA has dramatically increased the number of random enhanced screenings that crew are subjected to.
Captain Ed Sicher, president of the Allied Pilots Associations which represents pilots at American Airlines, claims its not unusual for pilots to be ‘randomly’ selected for enhanced security checks six or seven times in a row.
“Unforuntaly, the word ‘expeditious’ can no longer be used in the same sentence as KCM,” Captain Sicher told the union’s members in an internal memo. “The KCM privilege has become anything but due to the rising number of secondary screenings our pilots are being subjected to on a regular basis,” Sicher continued.
Created in 2011 as a joint initiative between industry trade group Airlines for America (A4A) and the Air Line Pilots Association, the KCM program was designed to expedite screening for crew members who have already undergone extensive security vetting.
Sicher says airlines have come to rely on KCM to shorten turnaround times between flights because management expects crew to “breeze through security screenings”, but this is no longer guaranteed due to the exceptionally high number of random screenings.
Crew members are becoming increasingly concerned that a decision by the TSA to take full control of KCM and rename it Expedited Crew Access (ECA) could spell even more trouble.
As part of a years-long process to update KCM, the TSA is reportedly no longer working with the ALPA union, infuriating its president Captain Joseph DePete who told Pekoske that the decision “flies in the face of common sense”.
While the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) continues to reassure its members about the future of KCM, pilots are apparently seething over the plans.
Although there have been headline-grabbing examples of KCM violations, DePete says the total number of violations is less than 1 percent of all KCM screenings. Meanwhile, Sicher points out that only 17 infractions by AA pilots were identified last year – one was down to a pilot bringing his child’s car seat through a TSA checkpoint.
“Not minor,” Sicher admits, “but hardly a reason to take an estimated 1.5 million minutes of time in additional screenings from the rest of our pilots last year”.
In response, Sicher is calling on AA pilots to simply stop using KCM checkpoints and instead line up behind other passengers in the normal TSA queue. Sicher says he won’t drop that advice until KCM “has been fixed”.
DePete warns that if pilots should start abandoning KCM and start using normal TSA lines to make a point, the system could be significantly overwhelmed.
A spokesperson for the TSA did not directly address the concerns raised by Sicher and DePete but said the agency was exploring options to modernize KCM and that the process would take several years to complete.
“TSA is continuously working with our aviation partners to ensure Known Crewmember Program (KCM) compliance,” the agency told us in an emailed statement.
“TSA has been exploring options to continue to modernize operations of the program as it transitions to assume complete oversight of the program capabilities and operations.”
“This transition is will continue over the next few years. TSA will continue to work with our industry partners to seek ways to minimize compliance violations and ensure eligible crewmembers are utilizing the program as it was intended.”
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.