Since the 9/11 attacks it has been widely publicized how airport security has increased. Airline customers are required to remove their shoes and willingly submit to pat down procedures, proper identification is now mandatory at various checkpoints throughout the airport, items that were previously allowed on-board are now considered restricted contraband, and passenger luggage is more thoroughly inspected. Many of us joked about how stringent the newly implemented TSA procedures had become, while others were outraged at the new policies– including a nursing mother that was forced to drink her own breast milk.
In spite of the seemingly extreme measures airports are now requiring passengers to adhere to, there is still fatal flaws within the new policies. There isn’t a better example of how these flaws can be exploited than the case of Marilyn Hartman. Known as “The Serial Stowaway” within the San Francisco/Bay area, Marilyn Hartman has been able to successfully sneak aboard multiple flights without a ticket. This raises serious questions about the state of airport security and the success rate of the TSA’s post 9/11 policies.
The media first became aware of Marilyn Hartman’s hijinks after she made several attempts to board a plane to Hawaii without a ticket at San Francisco International Airport between the dates of February 15th and February 20th 2014. Her first attempt was successful and she was able to actually board the plane by impersonating another passenger. It wasn’t until the real passenger arrived on the flight that Marilyn was discovered. She was questioned by airport officials and released, allowing her to make two more unsuccessful attempts before being placed under arrest.
That wouldn’t be the last San Francisco International Airport would see of Marilyn Hartman. A short time later she was arrested again for hanging around the airport food-court, undermining a direct order to stay off the premises unless she possessed a legitimate boarding pass. Then in April of 2014 she was found loitering near a baggage claim area.
Court orders were no deterrent for Marilyn and in August 2014 she was once again able to make her way through airport security. This time she boarded a plane in San Jose by successfully sneaking past a distracted checkin attendant. Once arriving at LAX the crew did a count of the passengers and realized that it did not match the airline records. Marilyn was arrested and charged with misdemeanor trespassing. When questioned about the security breach, TSA officials assured the press that she was screened in order to enter the facility, but noted that security should be increased at the document checkin areas.
Violating her probation by trespassing on LAX property just days after her arrest, Hartman was sentenced to serve 117 days in jail. Due to overcrowding, Marilyn was granted early release and it didn’t take long before she was back at it again. Two weeks later she was apprehended at a Phoenix, AZ airport after being spotted near a baggage claim area. She was sentenced to 18mo probation for trespassing. It was unclear how she had made her way to Phoenix since being freshly released from an Los Angeles jail and homeless at the time of her arrest.
For a period it seemed that Marilyn had learned her lesson, or at least had perfected her craft of sneaking aboard planes. It wouldn’t be until February 10, 2015 that Ms. Hartman would again make national headlines. This time she was able to bypass security checkpoints at an airport and board a plane without purchasing a ticket in Minnesota. She flew to Florida and after landing at the Jacksonville, FL International Airport provided officials with the name “Maria Sandgren”, a contestant on the reality series The Biggest Loser. From there Marilyn was transported to a high-end Floridian resort. Once the real Maria Sandgren arrived at the checkin desk it was clear that Marilyn was a fraud. She hid in a vacant room for several days before being discovered by the resort staff.
In an interview after her most recent arrest Marilyn asked a very important question “Why has the government allowed me to get past security points?”. While it is apparent that even though Marilyn Hartman is suffering from some form of undetermined mental illness she’s relatively benign in her exploits, what if a violent criminal or fugitive managed to board a plane in a manner similar to the methods used by Marilyn Hartman? It is alarming that even after 9/11 airport security is so fundamentally flawed that a 62yr old homeless woman could board a plane multiple times without a ticket or proper documentation. Hopefully TSA officials are taking a close look at this case and are working on implementing new measures to ensure that these security breaches do not occur in the future.