An on-duty flight attendant who was making her way to work a flight out of Philadelphia International Airport on Friday ended up being arrested after she was caught trying to take a loaded handgun through the TSA security checkpoint.
The 23-year-old flight attendant now faces firearms charges under Pennsylvania state law and a potential federal financial penalty for carrying the gun through an airport checkpoint.
Kiala Santa Cruz also faces the possibility of being terminated from her airline. Neither the TSA nor the Philadephia Police Department revealed which airline Cruz works for, although her police mugshot appears to show her wearing an American Airlines uniform.
American Airlines did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Police say Kiala was stopped as she passed through the Terminal C checkpoint when a TSA agent flagged her luggage for further inspection. A loaded .380 caliber Ruger semiautomatic handgun was found in her purse.
The gun had five rounds in the magazine but no rounds in the chamber.
“We are always on the alert for any possible insider threats,” commented Gerardo Spero, TSA’s Federal Security Director for the airport.
The arrest comes just two weeks after an airport concession worker was stopped trying to take a loaded handgun into the secure airside area of the airport. The worker claimed he forgot the gun was in his bag.
“Flight attendants and workers inside the terminal have insider knowledge and access to areas of the airport and aircraft that could pose a serious security threat,” Spero continued.
“These are excellent examples of why it remains important that airline employees and individuals who work in airports need to be screened before gaining access to secure areas of the airport.”
Aircrew can often skip most security screening at US airports as part of the ‘Known Crewmember’ initiative, but the TSA has ramped up random additional checks after a spate of incidents in which pilots and flight attendants have attempted to smuggle forbidden items through KCM access points.
Last year, a flight attendant attempted to smuggle 3.33 pounds of fentanyl through a KCM access point at San Diego Airport, but she was flagged for random additional screening, and the package was discovered when she passed through the metal detector arch.
The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) issued an urgent circular earlier this year warning crew members not to break KCM rules and to be particularly mindful of not accidentally trying to take a firearm through the security checkpoint.
In some cases, the union warned that flight attendants had managed to leave the United States on international trips with a firearm in their luggage only for it to then be discovered as they went to return to the US resulting in hefty fines and even imprisonment.
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.