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Worst Passenger of the Week: The Hero Gotham Deserves, but Not the One it Needs

Airport screening security tray isolated with clipping path.

Every Friday, FlyerTalk looks back at the week’s most charming individuals. While there are always plenty of contenders for our Worst Passenger of the Week award, only one lucky flyer can take home the glory. Here are this week’s winners.

Third Place – This Failed Attempt at an Exposé Ended-up Being a Real Bust

In government security audits, the TSA’s record on finding mock weapons and simulated explosives in carry-on bags is fairly dismal. In surprise tests, screeners managed to miss roughly 80 percent of the dangerous prohibited items examiners attempted to smuggle through security checkpoints. Turns out, however, that while the TSA isn’t great at spotting weapons and bombs, officers are pretty good at knowing when they are being recorded with a hidden camera.

A film crew said to be filming a segment for the CNBC “Staten Island Hustle” is accused of trying to smuggle suspicious items past TSA screeners at Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR). Unfortunately for everyone involved in the production, this was one of the 20 percent of the times that the TSA wasn’t fooled.

“This type of stunt is reckless, dangerous, uninformed and totally insensitive to the reality of the terror threat we face,” TSA Federal Security Director for New Jersey Tom Carter said in a harshly worded statement. “It is the equivalent to yelling ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater or using a toy gun to rob a bank and then claiming that it was just a toy, just to see what happens. There is simply no excuse for trying to do something like this knowing it had the great potential to cause panic with the intention of turning that panic into a reality show.”

Although prosecutors and the TSA have characterized the incident as reality television run amok, in local media reports the production company initially said that far from attempting to cause panic, those involved were simply testing a new vacuum compression suitcase that allows travelers to cram more items into their carry-on bags. Whether the incident was an ill-advised publicity stunt gone wrong, misguided attempt to expose security lapses at the airport or a simple misunderstanding, there is no punishment severe enough for any activity that makes the busy security lines at EWR move any slower than the standard slow pace travelers have come to expect.

The Runner-up – The Tenth Time is a Charm

A 66-year-old woman with an infamous compulsion for sneaking aboard commercial airline flights struck again this week. Serial stowaway Marilyn Hartman was arrested at Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) following her return to the US after crossing the Atlantic on a British Airways flight that she boarded without purchasing a ticket.

Despite being detained upon arrival at London Heathrow Airport (LHR), the journey ranks among Hartman’s most successful adventures. Authorities say the repeat offender has made at least ten previous attempts to sneak onto commercial flights. She has been busted after failing to sneak onto flights at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX), San Francisco International Airport, ORD and other US airports. She also appears to have successfully stowed away on fights from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) to Jacksonville International Airport (JAX), from Norman Y. Mineta San José International Airport (SJC) to LAX and possibly from SFO to Hawaii.

It appears that this is Hartman’s first trip abroad as a stowaway and given the new restrictions placed on her by the court, this personal best record will likely stand until well after Virgin Galactic starts flying passengers to Mars.

A judge has allowed Hartman to remain free pending trial, but she was warned not less than three times to stay away from the airport. “There is no pun intended for your client, but she is a flight risk given the number of offenses,” the judge warned Hartman’s lawyer before her eventual release from jail.

With Hartman’s numerous prior offenses and penchant for defying court orders, it seems that her long run of free travel may finally be coming to an end after this latest adventure (although there is an outside chance the judge will consider flying on two transatlantic flights in the span of just a few hours to be punishment enough).

The Winner – Where Does He Get Those Wonderful Toys?

The sort of person who carries a replica Bat-o-rang with them is probably not the sort of person to be tangled with if it can be avoided. The sort of person who decides that they can’t be separated from their comic book weapon for the length of a domestic flight should definitely be given a wide berth.

To be fair, the bat-shaped-throwing-knife seized by TSA screeners this week at Nashville International Airport (BNA) is just one of perhaps a dozen Batman-inspired weapons seized at airport checkpoints in recent years. Would-be crime fighters still insist on attempting to smuggle superhero weapons in carry-on bags despite the fact that there has never been even a single recorded case of the Joker interfering with commercial flights in real life.

Of course, a few utility belt knives is nothing compared to the serious weapons other passengers attempted to bring onto flights during the same time period. The TSA reports that across the US last week, the agency discovered 77 firearms in passengers’ carry-on bags. – 72 of those guns were loaded and 23 had a round chambered.

“Unfortunately these sorts of occurrences are all too frequent which is why we talk about these finds,” the TSA explains on its official blog. “Sure, it’s great to share the things that our officers are finding, but at the same time, each time we find a dangerous item, the line is slowed down and a passenger that likely had no ill intent ends up with a citation or in some cases is even arrested. This is a friendly reminder to please leave these items at home. Just because we find a prohibited item on an individual does not mean they had bad intentions; that’s for the law enforcement officer to decide.”

Just so no one is tempted to think that the Federal agency responsible for the security of air travel is in any way against passengers bringing firearms to the airport, the agency includes an exhaustive step-by-step guide to legally carrying weapons in checked luggage along with photographic evidence that dozens of passengers each week still try to bring guns on planes.

[Photo: Shutterstock]

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