Another Tear In The Airport Security Net

Stowaway boards flights with expired tickets


June 30--Virgin America Flight 415 from New York to Los Angeles was already two hours into its journey when some passengers in the upscale "Main Cabin Select" section complained that the man seated in 3E reeked of body odor.

A flight attendant asked Olajide Oluwaseun Noibi for his boarding pass and was surprised to see it was from a different fight and in someone else's name. She alerted authorities, and Noibi went back to sleep in his black leather airline seat. When the plane landed, authorities chose not to arrest Noibi, allowing him to leave the airport.

On Wednesday, Noibi was arrested trying to board a Delta flight out of Los Angeles. Once again, he had managed to pass undetected through security with an expired ticket issued in someone else's name. Authorities found at least 10 other boarding passes, none of which belonged to him. Law enforcement sources told The Times they suspect Noibi has used expired plane tickets to sneak on to flights in the past. On his website, Noibi describes himself as a "frequent traveler."

Now, federal authorities and Virgin America are trying to explain how the Nigerian American was able to get through layers of security -- and then avoid arrest for five days after officials discovered he was a stowaway.

Aviation safety experts said they see several major breakdowns in security procedures. Transportation Security Administration and airline officials should have noticed the ticket was expired and not in Noibi's name when he boarded at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport, they said. He was allowed onboard by showing his expired university ID card, even though college identification cards are not on the TSA's list of valid IDs and federal transportation sources said that it alone should not have been accepted.

The experts were also perplexed at why officials allowed Noibi to leave LAX after the plane landed when he had clearly violated laws.

"Obviously the system did not work the way it was supposed to," said Brian Jenkins, a transportation security expert at the Mineta Transportation Institute in San Jose and the Rand Corp., the Santa Monica-based think tank. "Procedure was not followed."

The incident is another black eye for airport security officials, who are still dealing with the publicity surrounding the TSA's decision last week to force a 95-year-old woman in a wheelchair to take off her adult diaper when she went through a security check in Florida.

TSA officials said Thursday it was reviewing Noibi's case. But Virgin America acknowledged in a statement that its workers "may have missed an alert" in processing Noibi in New York.

"The airline maintains security and other screening systems [are] in place to prevent such an occurrence; however, in this case it appears staff may have missed an alert when the passenger presented a boarding pass from a prior flight," said Virgin America spokeswoman Patricia Condon. "We take security matters very seriously and are reviewing our training to ensure that this anomaly does not occur again."

The saga began June 24, when Noibi got on the plane at JFK.

Noibi was not on the list of passengers for the flight, which would be mandatory "for each paying passenger on every U.S. domestic flight," wrote Special Agent Kevin R. Hogg in an FBI affidavit. Virgin had no record of Noibi paying for his ticket.

Despite this, he was able to move past two checkpoints -- at the security screening area and at the gate -- with his expired ticket and university ID.

Investigators later determined the boarding pass belonged to a man identified in the affidavit only as "M.D."

The man told authorities he printed his boarding pass at home, folded it up and put it in his back pocket. But when he arrived at JFK after taking the subway, he couldn't find it. He said he did not know Noibi and printed a replacement boarding pass.

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