Last March, employees at Honolulu International Airport were found to have loaded thousands of checked bags onto planes without screening. The scandal resulted in 28 dismissals at an airport policed by the federal Transportation Security Administration.
The incident demonstrates that government workers are also capable of the kinds of mistakes alleged to be ongoing at San Francisco International Airport.
Longtime baggage screeners for Covenant Aviation Security, the company charged with security at SFO, allege that every day, dozens to hundreds of bags identified as potential bomb threats are loaded onto planes without ever being inspected. Two weeks ago, after a year of inquiries by The San Francisco Examiner, federal officials allegedly began investigating SFO’s baggage screening operation.
Yet at the same time, federal studies support the idea that private security can be more efficient and secure than the TSA.
During a test at several large airports, a 2007 TSA report obtained by USA Today found that Covenant employees at SFO missed just 20 percent of the test bombs hidden in carry-ons, compared to 60 percent at Chicago O’Hare International Airport and 75 percent at Los Angeles International Airport, both of which are TSA-staffed.
A 2011 Department of Homeland Security report found that workers at SFO process 65 percent more passengers per employee than their LAX counterparts. But SFO whistle-blowers say such speed sometimes comes at the expense of safety in the baggage screening rooms.
During the past 10 years, SFO screeners have found many suspicious items, including a dummy grenade, airport spokesman Michael McCarron said. He declined to reveal whether an actual bomb had ever been found, but TSA spokesman Nico Melendez said screeners at SFO had detected explosives.