Sen. Charles Schumer Wednesday called for stricter screening of all employees at U.S. airports after a Delta Air Lines baggage handler was arrested and charged with helping to smuggle handguns in carry-on luggage onto commercial flights from Atlanta to New York City.
Passengers, pilots and flight attendants are currently required to pass through airport metal detectors, but workers who repair and clean planes, load luggage and work in areas behind security checkpoints are not screened when they report to work, Schumer (D-N.Y.) said during a news conference in Washington, D.C.
Schumer's call for tighter screening of all airline and airport workers came a month after a gun-trafficking probe, led by Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson, exposed the security breach at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
"When guns, drugs and even explosives are as easy to carry on board a plane as a neck pillow, then we have to seriously -- and immediately -- overhaul our airport practices," Schumer said. Terrorists could have brought bombs on the planes just as easily, Schumer and Thompson said.
Nationwide, very few airports, if any, use metal detectors to screen all workers before work each day, Schumer said. At New York-area airports, he said some employees at some terminals are screened before they report for work, but not in every case.
Schumer and Thompson urged the Transportation Security Administration to use metal detectors to screen all airline and airport employees daily. There are about 37,000 workers at Kennedy and 11,000 at LaGuardia airports, according to the Port Authority.
Marsha L. Catron, a spokeswoman for U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, said her boss is heading to the Atlanta airport Thursday to meet with TSA and airport officials to discuss the security lapse.
"Secretary Johnson shares the concerns raised by Brooklyn District Attorney Thompson and Senator Schumer, and DHS is rigorously analyzing the findings from this investigation," Catron said.
During their monthslong probe, investigators in Thompson's office discovered the baggage handler, Eugene Harvey, 31, of College Park, Georgia, didn't have to pass metal detectors when he reported for work. Investigators allege he carried the handguns in backpacks into secured areas of the Atlanta airport, where he handed the weapons to Mark Henry, 45, a former Delta employee from Canarsie, Brooklyn.
Henry then boarded the planes and illegally brought the firearms to New York City, where they were sold, Thompson said. "The ease by which airport employees are able to smuggle weapons and other contraband onto our commercial airliners is troubling and warrants immediately scrutiny and inspection," Thompson said.