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The SeaTac Airport Security Breach, Explained

Passengers at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) had to deal with extensive security delays for hours on April 22 all due to a malfunction in equipment by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). So what happened?

It turns out the culprit was all due to one measly carry-on bag. In addition to the delays, some people were not allowed to exit certain terminals, to board trains, or to leave secure parts of the airport. A TSA spokesperson said there was an equipment malfunction around 7:55 p.m., and that a bag wasn’t properly screened.

“Because the bag should have been searched prior to it entering the sterile area of the airport, officers with the Port of Seattle Police Department began looking for the traveler and the bag in the gate area of the terminal,” the TSA said in a statement.

All screening at security checkpoints were stopped while authorities tried to sort out the issue and locate the passenger. Port of Seattle police used CCTV footage to track down the passenger and their bag. Once they located said passenger, they escorted them back to the security checkpoint to be properly screened. Once that was taken care of, security screenings started moving again at around 8:20 p.m.

During the shutdown, the airport informed passengers that there was going to be some significant delays, although they did not provide a reason. TSA was not as forthcoming with information about why the equipment malfunctioned, or why that bag specifically needed to be checked. The TSA spokesperson said it was investigating exactly why the bag wasn’t diverted to the correct spot.

There are various theories as to why this happened. One person said it might be due to a human error involving a manual search:

“Basically, it sounds like someone’s bag was flagged to be pulled aside for a manual search, but it wasn’t pulled aside, and the mistake wasn’t noticed until the passenger had left the checkpoint. The reason the bag needed to be searched is probably not very interesting. It’s almost always because a passenger accidentally had something in their carry-on that they weren’t supposed to, like a water bottle or a razor.”

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is one of the busiest in the country, and authorities at the busy travel hub say people should arrive approximately two hours before a domestic flight, and three hours before an international one. The airport has five main checkpoints, and passengers can access all gates from any one of them.

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