How the Flight Attendant Caught With 70 Pounds of Cocaine Escaped Airport Security

One of the more interesting angles to the story of the flight attendant caught with 70 pounds of cocaine is that she wasn’t immediately arrested. Instead, she ran off.

And in my view the TSA did everything right.

Flight attendants, and trusted crew generally, make good mules because they usually receive less scrutiny. It reminded me of the Lufthansa flight attendants who were arrested in a quantitative easing scheme in 2011. Out of circulation euro coins were sent to China to be melted down. The flight attendants brought back 63,000 pounds of these €1 and €2 coins over four years.

But once you’re caught, you’re supposed to stay caught, right?

Instead she left. And she came back the next day and got on another flight, leaving the drugs behind. Four days later she surrendered herself at New York JFK.

  • As an off duty crew member she simply used her ‘known crew member’ badge to walk through the security checkpoint unmolested.

  • However she happened to be chosen for random screening. That’s when:

    …she became nervous and made a phone call in a foreign language before she dropped her bags, kicked off her heels, ran down an upward-moving escalator and out of the airport

  • She left behind the 11 packages of cocaine (worth ~ $3 million).

Though she had shown her badge, she was still able to use it the next day to go through security again and fly.

No bulletin for Reynolds’ arrest was immediately issued. The TSA would not have flagged her name because she did not pose a terrorist threat, according to an airport security official with knowledge of the investigation.

The Drug Enforcement Agency did not learn about the drugs until at least five hours after Reynolds fled and did not know her name until well after she had boarded a flight to New York, according to a federal law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation.

…The TSA did not verify Reynolds’ name until at least Saturday because no one at the airport is allowed to access the database that had scanned her crew member badge at the airport, both the airport security and federal officials said.

…He doubts that anybody is staffing that location [which provides database access] on a 24-hour basis, simply because it’s rare for anyone to need regular access to the database. If a crew member is turned away after a badge is scanned, that person could just go through a regular security screening, he added.

Though this brings added scrutiny to the known crewmember program, which allows TSA to focus on individuals they deem to be greater threats (as with PreCheck, crew go through background checks prior to being admitted), she was only carrying drugs — which is precisely what the TSA shouldn’t be focusing on. The whole point of the program is not to be distracted by people or issues that aren’t related to aviation security.

TSA lines have gotten longer. The TSA is spending more time per passenger, and employees are taken out of service for additional training. Do you really want them focusing on crew and others that have passed background checks? And if you do, the issue seems with the background checks themselves. You simply cannot screen everyone at heightened levels. The Israeli model – built around protecting a single airport with fewer annual passengers than Orlando – doesn’t scale to the entire US aviation system.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Decent post. Shocked by your unnecessarily underline statement at the beginning. Even more shocked that you kept the post somewhat to the point. I was expecting paragraph after paragraph after paragraph of unrelated links to nude scopes and every post you’ve ever written about TSA and pictures of completely unrelated nonsense.

  2. Well I think he underlined it simply for emphasis, since as far as I can recall, Gary has *never* previously admitted that the TSA could do anything right. 🙂

  3. Yes, TSA should focus on “trusted” crew carrying drugs. Today cocaine, tomorrow explosives. A drug smuggler is every bit as dangerous as a terrorist. Fortunately, TSA caught this criminal before she smuggled weapons into the secure air space and caused a repeat of 9-11.

  4. TSA’s job is to prevent terrorists from getting on planes and stop weapons / bombs from getting on planes, not to stop cocaine smuggling.

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