Serial Stowaway Gets Through TSA, Flies to London Without Ticket

Marilyn Hartman, aged 66, keeps getting on planes without a ticket. Sometimes she’s successful, sometimes she isn’t. She once tried to fly to Hawaii because she said she thought she had cancer and that’s where she wanted to die. She says she feels safe in airports.

This week she cleared security at Chicago O’Hare without a ticket. She entered a domestic terminal and took a shuttle to terminal 5 which British Airways departs from. I’m going to assume that refers to the O’Hare terminal 3-terminal 5 shuttle and they’re supposed to check your ticket at the shuttle, too.

She flew to London the day after she entered the airport. She simply wandered around O’Hare for two days based on security footage.

Ms. Hartman boarded a British Airways flight to Heathrow and “hid in a bathroom and eventually walked out and found a seat” once they were enroute.

Since she didn’t have a passport she was detained in London by border authorities and returned to Chicago where she was arrested.

In July 2015 she was released from jail on a stowaway charge and less then 24 hours did it again at Chicago Midway. She was sentenced to 6 months of house arrest and given 2 years “of mental health probation” in 2016.

British Airways Boeing 747

I feel badly for this woman. Clearly she has challenges which aren’t being met by our institutions. The TSA and Chicago’s airports especially, but British Airways also are the ones that failed here. It’s Ms. Hartman, though, that’s being charged. The government? Spin that they’re reacting swiftly,

[T]he federal agency is working closely with out law enforcement and airline partners in that effort. Upon learning of the incident TSA and its aviation partners took immediate action to review security practices throughout the airport.

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. So we should just encourage people to bypass security and steal services? I’m not sure why you think she shouldn’t be charged. If she’s crazy maybe she should be placed in an institution. Or should no one be held accountable for their actions these days?

  2. @Mike D., I believe the word Gary didn’t include was *only* Mrs. Hartman was being charged while the airline and the TSA are “reacting swiftly” and “reviewing procedures”, i.e., they ain’t doing squat.

  3. I think Gary is trying to say that this lady clearly needs help; but also O’Hare and BA failed in regards to security issues… How do you board a plane without a valid ticket/boarding pass! BTW, didn’t we have similar ticket issues earlier this year? Ana flight?

  4. This woman clearly has some problems that she needs help with but my gosh she is one smart woman and I find these stories of her fascinating! She obviously had to do a lot of careful planning and research to know the logistics of navigating Ohare to go from T3 to T5 airside and determine a flight to board that wouldn’t be 100% full.

    One thing I just never have understood is how she actually gets on board the aircraft? Sure the board of areas are chaotic at times but to be able to slip past a gate agent takes some serious skill!

  5. I am not encouraging this behavior nor suggesting anyone ought not be charged for it. However there are institutional failures here and those more or less get a pass. I’m pointing out that gaping inconsistency.

  6. The woman’s actions, per se’, are irrelevant. Instead, what are the process gaps allowing this to happen? And, most importantly, how to fix them.

  7. Too many check points failed to stop her from traveling on the airplane without a ticket and a passport! TSA and airport officials have to find out how she did it!

  8. How do you think she (A) gets through TSA, and (B) is able to on more than one occasion board the plane without a boarding pass. Obviously, the fixes society trys are 100% bound to fail, they should give her a job in aviation security. Any other solution is bound to fail, and we will see her I guarantee you keep doing it if they don’t just give her a job in what she likes to do.

  9. I agree with 90’s Flyer.

    Mental Health institutions in America are “lacking” at best. In many places around our country they simply do not exist. So saying “she needs to get help” is somewhat akin to saying “she needs to go to mars”. It’s not happening anytime soon.

    Instead, she should be redirected. In the IT industry you have white-hat hackers, who are paid to probe IT defenses. She should be offered a salary position (with mental health benefits, please) to probe the TSA Security and Airline operational security to identify weaknesses. She’s clearly quite talented.


    Instead she’s being charged, and the TSA and BA who both failed are being left to fail yet again.

  10. BA may have figured it out halfway into the flight, but didn’t want to turn around and drop her off.
    I’m surprised she wasn’t able to clear the hurdle at Customs. One little distraction, and she may have slipped into England.
    Getting back to the US may have been an easier task since we generally don’t require passports to enter our country.
    Seriously though, given the number of fake passports or passports that didn’t match actual passengers, on the Malaysian flight that disappeared, I wonder how many stowaways go undetected.

  11. Jeff, old buddy, as the son of an English teacher, it’s my job to remind you that you feel bad for someone, not badly, any more than you would feel goodly for someone.
    ps – Great blog!

  12. Until the access pathway to the jetway entrance is completely walled off there will always be a way to slip by when someone isn’t looking. I don’t think they prioritize it because they’re already past security. She had to buy some ticket to get past TSA. People who live in airports buy short haul refundable tickets and exchange them regularly. They should track that.

  13. @greg
    ” People who live in airports buy short haul refundable tickets and exchange them regularly”
    Where does this information come from? Are airports the new homeless shelters?

  14. I really hope she gets some help! What she is doing is very strange though non violent. Rather then repeatedly punishing her for these acts, she deserves serious help, support by state and federal agencies. I still can’t believe how the people in charge at airport FAILED here. unbelievable

  15. Everyone says she is nuts but I think she is bored with life and having a good time defeating the system. The fact that it exposes the gaps in the security of systems is amazing and she reminds me of ‘Catch me if you can’.

    Keep testing the system, girl. We can only benefit from it.

  16. A great learning experience will probably be missed by both TSA and airline boarding procedures.
    Would bet that all TSA security points are taped, not sure about gate areas. Identify the diversion, momentary attention lapse or whatever allowed this to happen and get that info out to the agents who would be better able to recognize and not have it repeated.

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