Yesterday, I got a response from my home airport of Tulsa International (TUL) regarding the issues I had with the TUL Visitor Pass program. These issues appeared to be resolved, but I wasn’t sure when I’d be able to find the time to make it back to TUL and give it another go. Well, Tulsa’s traffic made that easy for me! A major wreck on my side of town decided to gift me some free time, giving me the choice between sitting in gridlock for potentially hours on end, or getting some quality planespotting time in at TUL while things cleared up. I opted for the more pleasant alternative—hanging out at the airport. This time, my experience with the Visitor Pass program was notably smoother, but that’s a story for another day.
As I strolled towards the TSA checkpoint, a peculiar announcement echoed through the airport speakers. Someone was urgently summoned to the Southwest Airlines counter, being reminded in no uncertain terms that they were “in Tulsa, Oklahoma, NOT Philadelphia!” This announcement was repeated several times over the course of the coming minutes. Oops, someone took a wrong turn!
I reached out to Southwest for some insight, but the airline’s response was predictably vague. All I got was a standard response acknowledging my concern, but declining to comment on individual passengers. Fair enough. The specifics of the incident remained elusive, but we can read between the lines here: someone, whether intentionally or unintentionally, likely boarded the wrong flight. It’s unclear which flight this occurred on, but my educated guess based on the time of the announcement points to WN2883 from Austin Bergstrom (AUS) as the misdirected traveler’s likely flight.
Hi, Adam. While there may be many reasons that a Passenger may be paged to the counter, we are unable to provide information about a fellow Passenger. We apologize for any concern this may have caused.Response from “Sara” with Southwest Airlines
This mishap brought me back to a September blog post where I delved into the case of a stowaway on a Southwest flight to MSY. In that instance, the passenger slipped through the cracks intentionally, only to be nabbed thanks to a completely full flight.
Sure, boarding passes are designed to be electronically scanned, theoretically preventing such mix-ups. However, it ultimately falls on the gate agents to ensure that no one sneaks onto the jetbridge without a valid scan. And Southwest’s gate agents seem to have a hard time enforcing much of anything.
It’s unlikely this qualified as a true security breach. TSA does a good job of securing the boundaries between sterile and non-sterile airport areas, and most airports now use automated exit lanes that provide no opportunity to slip past while the agent isn’t looking (AUS being one of those). However, airlines like Southwest seem to fall short in ensuring that those already in the sterile zone have the proper boarding pass for their specific flight. And while TSA does this well, there are legitimate ways to enter a sterile zone without a departing flight – someone could be a domestic arrival, utilize a fully refundable ticket, or be at an airport like TUL that gives gate passes to anyone who requests them. You still have to be screened by TSA, you just don’t necessarily need to fly out.
The incident in September raised questions about how such slip-ups occur. Now that I’ve (potentially) encountered a similar situation firsthand, I really question how frequently this is happening and not being reported. It might be high time for some gate agent retraining or, dare I suggest, the introduction of automated turnstiles at the gate to streamline the process.