[ISN] Once More Into the Security Breach

From: InfoSec News (alerts@private)
Date: Mon Jan 15 2007 - 23:30:27 PST


January 15, 2007

SUNDAY, Jan. 7. Newark International Airport.

I disembark at Gate C85, with my two daughters, from Continental Flight 
488 at 5:55 a.m. Weve just arrived from Puerto Rico, our skin tight with 
sunburn and salt. I navigate the terminal at the minimal level of 
consciousness required to find the baggage claim, collect our suitcases, 
and get into the taxi line.

Tempted to buy coffee from the kiosk between Baggage Carousels 2 and 3, 
I discover I dont have my wallet. I must have left it on or around my 
seat, 23B, where I paused to rifle through my carry-on to be sure I 
wasnt leaving any of my younger daughters toys or games behind.

Jolted by adrenaline, I instruct my daughters, ages 16 and 6, to remain 
at the baggage claim while I try to retrieve my wallet. Carrying only my 
passport, I run upstairs to find someone who can issue me a gate pass 
allowing my return through security to Concourse C.

Impressing the validity of my request on one distracted airline employee 
after another takes a discouragingly long time. I am referred to and 
from and back again to the agent at Desk 72. By the time I pass through 
the gantlet of uniformed security personnel busy separating travelers 
from their toothpaste and emollients, Ive lost 30 minutes, more than 
long enough for a cleaning crew to straighten, vacuum and de-wallet the 
airplane. I run, my shoes in one hand, passport in the other, to Gate 
C85, at the end of the abandoned concourse. Gates 85, 84, 83 all gates 
in sight are bereft of both airline and airport personnel, but my planes 
still there; I can see it through the window.

I stand at the closed metal door that separates Gate 85 from its jetway. 
Hello, I call, idiotically, and I knock, as loudly as possible, using 
the heel of my shoe. Surprisingly, when I turn the handle of the door to 
the jetway, I find it unlocked. Unsurprisingly, when I push it open, an 
alarm goes off. I stand there, holding the handle, waiting for someone 
official to come, expecting to be chastised and confident that, as I am 
holding a valid United States passport and making no attempt to flee, I 
can explain my predicament.

But no one answers the alarm, which is shatteringly loud and still 
ringing. The handful of travelers in the waiting area, rumpled 
middle-aged men, watch without expression as I prop the door open with 
my little black shoe in case its locked from the other side and 
disappear down the jetway toward the plane. Am I a federal criminal now? 
Does anyone care?

The airplanes front hatch is open, and I enter, disappointed to see that 
each seat already holds a tidy white pillow and plastic-wrapped blanket. 
The cleaning crew has come and gone. I search under and around Seat 23B. 
My wallet is nowhere to be found. Back at the gate, my little black shoe 
still holds the door open, the alarm still rings, and the rumpled 
middle-aged men in the waiting area continue to read their Sunday 
papers. I retrieve my shoe; the door closes; the alarm stops.

You what! says the woman at Continentals customer service desk after Ive 
told her what Ive just done. You cant, you cannot, do that. You cannot. 
I know, I tell her, but my wallet is missing, Ive left my children at 
the baggage claim, and theres no one at Gate 85 or any of the adjacent 
gates. Anyway, I say, I waited for security but no one came.

Its your own fault you lost your wallet, she says when I ask her to 
contact the cleaning crew. She gives me a sharp look I interpret as her 
judgment that violators of federal airline security regulations deserve 
no special courtesies.

Back at the baggage claim area, I file a lost item report, collect my 
children and our luggage, and use my cellphone to wake my husband. Does 
he have enough cash to pay our cab fare from Newark to Brooklyn? Ill 
explain when we get home, I tell him.

When I do, he shakes his head. Let me get this straight, he says. 
Unauthorized, you open the gate door to the airplane. You set off a very 
loud security alarm. You wait a few minutes, and then take it upon 
yourself to enter the empty aircraft. You spend some time moving around 
its interior. No one sees you there. You leave of your own accord. You 
exit the way you came and you stop the alarm from ringing. And you 
confessed this, chapter and verse, to airline personnel and nothing 

Yes, I say. Exactly so.

Kathryn Harrison is the author, most recently, of Envy, a novel.

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