Are all of these airport security measures working?

By Andrea Minarcek
October 3, 2012

TSA declines to comment on "unbelievable" case of identity fraud on recent Air Canada flight.

If there's any bright side to all the hassles of going through airport security (and as any traveler is aware, there are many) it's the sense of security that all those measures provide.

I myself generally trust that the precautions homeland security takes make me and my fellow passengers safer, so I'm able to see all the red tape as more comforting than annoying.

It's both frustrating and frightening, then, to hear stories like the one that emerged Friday from CNN, in what authorities are calling an "unbelievable case of concealment."

On October 29th, a young man in Hong Kong, described as an "Asian looking male that appeared to be in his early 20s," boarded an Air Canada flight bound for Vancouver, disguised as an elderly man—silicone face and neck mask, decoy eyeglasses, Mr. Rogers-esque brown cardigan and all.

He even went so far as to mimic "the movements of an elderly person" and—more shockingly—to swap boarding passes with an actual citizen of the United States, who was booked on that flight as a passenger.

A Canadian Borders Services Agency alert, dated November 1, 2010, said that "it is believed that the subject and the actual United States Citizen passenger (whose date of birth is 1955) performed a boarding pass swap, with the subject using an Aeroplan card as identification to board the flight."

Aeroplan is nothing more than a credit card, which allows card holders to earn frequent flyer miles. (How appropriate, right?)

The U.S. citizen in question is so far unidentified.

Air Canada officials pointed out that "there are multiple identity checks before departure at the Hong Kong international airport, including Chinese government-run Hong Kong passport control, which Hong Kong originating passengers must undergo." Still, the subject successfully got on the plane under an assumed identity, with the U.S. citizen's boarding pass.

After he boarded the flight and the plane took off—in a quick change worthy of Superman—he simply walked into the airplane bathroom and removed his mask and eyeglasses. He then emerged as a young man and calmly returned to his seat, much to the surprise of the plane crew and other passengers, who alerted officials in Canada.

After landing in Vancouver, the young man was immediately arrested and taken into custody by Canadian Border Services Officers. He has since made a claim for refugee protection.

Why, exactly, he did all this remains unclear. But that, to me, is entirely beside the point—I don't care why, I want to know how. How on earth did he slip past security in this Halloween get-up?

I contacted our very own Transportation Security Administration to find out, but representatives there declined to comment.

All we can hope, I suppose, is that our screening processes are a lot more fool-proof than those executed last week in Hong Kong.

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