Airline stowaway: Virgin America employees may have ‘missed an alert,’ carrier says
Virgin America acknowledged Thursday that its employees "may have missed an alert," allowing a Nigerian American man to board a flight from New York to Los Angeles without a valid boarding pass or ticket.
Airline spokeswoman Patricia Condon said internal reviews show that Olajide Oluwaseun Noibi, 24, was allowed to get on the flight on Friday, June 24 using a boarding pass for a flight on a different date.
"The airline maintains security and other screening systems [are] in place to prevent such an occurrence; however, in this case it appears staff may have missed an alert when the passenger presented a boarding pass from a prior flight," Condon said. "We take security matters very seriously and are reviewing our training to ensure that this anomaly does not occur again."
Condon confirmed other details in an FBI affidavit filed in connection with the case. She said that after takeoff, a crew member asked to see Noibi's boarding pass, noted the discrepancy and alerted the captain, who immediately notified authorities from the flight deck. Law enforcement officers met the aircraft on its arrival and Noibi was questioned by federal authorities but was not detained.
The crew kept Noibi -– who slept for much of the flight -- under surveillance, but at no time felt there was any threat to the security of the flight, Condon said.
Federal officials said there is no requirement that airliners land as soon as possible if they find someone on board who is not supposed to be on the flight, unless that person is on the government's no-fly list. People suspected of some involvement with terrorism qualify for the list, which prohibits them from boarding commercial aircraft for travel in or outside the United States.
Federal agencies, such as the FBI, Customs and the Transportation Security Administration, can order commercial aircraft to divert from their original destination under suspicious circumstances, but there is no set formula for doing do, officials said. It appears the Virgin America pilot handled the situation appropriately, they said.
Noibi returned to LAX on Tuesday and was able to clear airport screening. He spent the night in the airport and was arrested Wednesday morning when he attempted to board a Delta Air Lines flight without a valid boarding pass.
He made his initial court appearance that afternoon in United States District Court in Los Angeles. United States Magistrate Judge Michael Wilner ordered Noibi held without bond until another hearing scheduled for Friday morning. He also scheduled a preliminary hearing for July 13 and arraignment for July 18.
-- Howard Blume, Dan Weikel and Andrew Blankstein
Photo: Virgin America A320. Credit: Mark Greenberg, Virgin America / Reuters