SAN FRANCISCO – A woman who took a Southwest Airlines flight from San Jose to Los Angeles without a ticket tried at least three times that day to breach airport security before she managed to board the plane, federal law enforcement officials said Wednesday.
It was the San Jose airport’s second security breach in recent months, after a teenage Somali immigrant stowed away in the wheel well of an April flight from there to Hawaii.
Marilyn Jean Hartman bypassed an agent who was screening boarding passes Monday at Mineta San Jose International Airport by sneaking through with a family, said the law enforcement officials, who would speak only on condition of anonymity because the security breach is being investigated.
Hartman then went through the electronic screening process before entering an airport terminal. Authorities say she made it through screening because she had no prohibited items on her or in her purse.
Hartman, 62, then managed to board Southwest Airlines Flight 3785 to Los Angeles International Airport and was discovered once the plane landed, the officials said.
The San Francisco woman was ordered to 24 months’ probation after she pleaded no contest Wednesday in a Los Angeles courtroom to wilfully and unlawfully entering the city as a stowaway on an aircraft, a misdemeanour. Hartman also was ordered to stay away from the LA airport unless she has a ticket to board a flight.
Her attorney, Elsie Wanton of San Francisco, could not be immediately reached for comment Wednesday.
California Congressman Eric Swalwell, who raised security concerns after April’s breach, said Tuesday the latest incident was an “apparent failure by both airport security and the airline of protecting passengers from a potential threat to their safety.”
In the previous incident, 15-year-old Yahya Abdi hopped a fence at San Jose’s airport and hid in the wheel well of a Hawaiian Airlines flight. He survived the arduous journey and dropped to the tarmac at a Maui airport about an hour after the plane landed. Abdi said he was trying to see his mother, a refugee in Ethiopia. He has not been charged.
San Jose airport spokeswoman Rosemary Barnes said Wednesday the two incidents were completely unrelated. She said the airport is assisting separate investigations conducted by the Transportation Security Administration and Southwest on how Hartman was able to board the flight.
Barnes said no security breach was committed since Hartman made it through the electronic screening process.
“Public safety was not compromised in any way,” Barnes said. “We’re looking into how this person got past the document checker and the airline gate agent without a ticket.”
TSA spokesman Ross Feinstein said the agency already has made some changes to the document-checking process at the San Jose airport.
“The agency has initiated minor modifications to the layout of the document-checking area to prevent another incident like this one,” said Feinstein, who declined to go into specifics.
Southwest said in a statement Tuesday it is “actively investigating” the incident.
Hartman has a known history of trying to sneak onto flights without a ticket and could be in violation of her court-ordered probation, authorities said.
In February, Hartman was sentenced to 18 months’ probation in San Mateo County after being arrested for attempting to board three Hawaii-bound flights at the San Francisco International Airport on three separate days.
On her first arrest, she made it through security and onto a plane only to be caught when the actual ticket holder showed up, officials said. On her second and third attempts, she was caught trying to get through the security line.
Hartman was arrested three more times over the next two months at the San Francisco airport, San Mateo County Sheriff’s Deputy Rebecca Rosenblatt said Wednesday.
Each time, Hartman indicated she wanted to go to Hawaii, but she never had a ticket.
San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said Wednesday that Hartman is a loner who has no family or kids and was never married. Her parents are also deceased, he said.
Hartman previously said she wanted to fly somewhere warm because she had cancer, but her claims about having the disease were unsubstantiated, Wagstaffe said. In May, Hartman was placed in a mental treatment program, but she stopped attending last month.
“She declined all of our efforts to offer her assistance,” Wagstaffe said. “And we tried all of the alternatives we had because we weren’t interested in locking her up on our end.”
Wagstaffe said he has no interest in expanding Hartman’s probation order to include other neighbouring counties.
“We’ve gone above and beyond to help her,” he said. “We hope that she doesn’t come back here.”