Airports large and small are some of the most secure places in the entire country, or at least they are during the day. But how secure are airports overnight?
Green Bay’s Austin Straubel International Airport and Appleton International Airport are two of many airports around the country that have overnights with no arriving or departing flights. In those hours, the Transportation Security Administration checkpoints are closed down, but many terminals are left unlocked and with no visible security. With these terminals being gateways to some of the nation’s busiest airports, security is critical.
Local 5 Investigates visited both Green Bay and Appleton’s airports multiple times over the last few weeks. All our visits were between 2 and 3AM. The access we had was surprising.
At Green Bay’s Austin Straubel International Airport, just after 2 a.m., Local 5 reporter Justin Razavi found the doors of the main terminal unlocked, and the ticketing area – where airlines have their computers and the T.S.A. has Green Bay’s checked bag scanning system – were wide open and easily accessible.
Upstairs, where flights depart, was more secure. Green Bay’s two gate terminals were locked down, and Justin did not have access to the T.S.A. checkpoints behind them.
At Appleton International Airport, also around 2 a.m., Justin not only had the same access to ticket counters and airline computers, but here he, and anyone else who walks into the terminal, had open access to the T.S.A. security checkpoint.
Justin did find a passenger in the Appleton airport, Los Angeles area resident Michelle Krokes, who said she had been there about four hours, and had not seen any visible security. Michelle told Justin, “It’s kinda strange to be in an airport where there’s no employees here, and not seeing any kind of security… In this day and age, it kind of worries me… Businesses that are closed at night – they have security walking around their perimeter of their businesses. I don’t understand why the airport wouldn’t be the same.”
Local 5 Investigates reached out to the directors of both airports to ask why the terminals seemed so insecure and open to tampering. Both told us that even though we did not see security in our visits, airport security could, and did, see him.
Tom Miller, Green Bay’s Airport Director, would not give specifics on how they watched Justin, but was clear that he had been watched closely. He even listed the times and days Justin was there, saying, “You were here on the 27th of September, arrived about 2:17. You walked around the terminal building, shot some video on various floors, including on the grand lobby, and then you exited at about 2:28 a.m. That was observed, and somebody watched it.”
Abe Weber, Appleton’s Airport Director, said, “We certainly saw you. I’ve had a number of emails and phone calls that people were in the building.”
Weber insists that security is a 24-hour-a-day operation, “We always have somebody watching, we always have somebody here 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”
Both airport directors told Local 5 Investigates the reason they leave terminals open overnight, is as a courtesy to passengers who have early departures, and often need a place to stay for a few hours, or even overnight, ahead of a flight. They insist that these airports are safe overnight, and monitored by what people don’t see. “There’s airport security staff here 24/7 and they can respond to this building in a matter of minutes, if they’re not here already,” Miller said.
Local 5 Investigates checked with an independent airline security expert Jeff Price and told him what we found at Green Bay and Appleton. “It’s a little unusual the screening equipment is in front of the gates in Appleton,” Price said, but indicated that Justin was not approached because “since they were not tampering with anything, an officer was not dispatched.”
Price also added, “I imagine you caused some interesting conversations prompting the airport and T.S.A. to discuss whether existing measures over these technologies and these areas are adequate.”
Price went on to discuss how this type of security by camera is common in less busy airports and he is confident that had Justin had different plans and actually tampered with equipment, there would have been an in-person response from security, something the local airport directors also told us.
Even though it may appear no security is there, Abe Webber with Appleton airport summed us our local airport security best, “Whether you see it or not, it’s always there.”