DALLAS – Federal officials say that a Georgia man posed as an airline employee to score cheap travel and resold the tickets for thousands of dollars.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles said that 37-year-old Gilbert Myers Jr. of Atlanta remained in custody Friday on $75,000 bond after pleading not guilty to mail-fraud charges.
Officials said Myers was arrested earlier this week at a hotel in Beverly Hills, California, after agreeing to meet a ticket buyer who turned out to be an undercover FBI agent.
JetBlue Airways said that it uncovered the scheme and notified law enforcement.
Myers was arraigned Thursday in federal district court. He was ordered to stay in the Los Angeles area if he posts bail and told not to book air travel. A call to Myers’ lawyer, a public defender in Los Angeles, was not immediately returned.
Airlines routinely provide free travel for their own employees and heavily discounted fares to those of other airlines if there are empty seats. Such passengers are called non-rev for non-revenue, and they can use the stand-by tickets even for personal travel.
The indictment listed about a dozen times in 2012 and 2013 when Myers called an airline posing as an employee from another airline and obtained a ticket for non-rev travel. The ticket would be in the name of someone to whom Myers resold the travel, typically charging $2,000 for a year of flights, according to the indictment.
In nearly all of the examples listed in the indictment, Myers made reservations on JetBlue Airways.
“JetBlue uncovered this fraudulent scheme and brought this matter to law enforcement for further investigation,” said Sharon Jones, a spokeswoman for the airline.
Investigators believe that Myers fraudulently booked hundreds of flights and used other airlines too, costing them “hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses.”
Some airline industry employees were baffled how anyone could scam the non-rev system by calling airline reservations centres. Many airlines use an electronic service that requires a username, password, and the user’s airline.
Jones said that JetBlue employees use the service for their non-rev travel and so do employees from other carriers. But flight attendants and pilots in some cases can make reservations over the phone, she said.
Myers allegedly told his customers how to dress and what to say if somebody asked where they worked.
The case was investigated by an FBI terrorism task force. Authorities said that the people who used tickets provided by Myers went through regular airport screening, and safety was not compromised.
If convicted, Myers could face up to 20 years in prison for each of four counts in the indictment.