Airport Gates Left Open Not Uncommon

The Associated Press recently reported on a story about 3 LAX terminals that were briefly shut down after an airport contract worker left an exit from a secure area unattended.

The case of the open gate is unfortunately, but not all that uncommon. What’s uncommon here is that it held up flights. With thousands of access doors and gates at hundreds of U.S. airports, and tens of thousands of employees accessing them daily, it’s bound to happen from time to time.

Usually, when doors or gates are found to be open a security guard or police officer is sent to determine if a breach occurred. TSA is often notified and everyone makes a collective decision about the risk. How long was the door or gate open? Was the incident caught on CCTV? Were there witnesses? What is the location of the incident and its proximity to commercial aircraft, critical infrastructure, etc. Then, a decision is made about whether to stop flights, search for a suspect, or assume the risk and move on.

Every airport and airline employee who is allowed access to the secured areas of an airfield is required to undergo Security Identification Display Area (SIDA) training, initially when hired and on a recurring basis (every 1-2 years is common). This is a standard requirement within the federal regulations in order to be issued an airport identification badge. The challenge is getting the employee to actually follow the security practices. Just like everyone is required to pass a driver’s education test and then is expected to obey the law, aviation employees are expected to follow the security regulations in place at their airport.

In some cases, there is a mechanical failure. An employee will access a door or gate, shut it behind them, and then a “gate-fairy” comes along and reopens it for whatever mechanical reason. Kind of like the hatch on the Mercury space flight with Gus Grissom, the ‘hatch just blew.’ Sometimes doors and gates just open. In many cases, there are CCTV cameras that can see what has happened. Many of the doors and gates are tied into the airports computerized security control system, which is supposed to go into alarm when a door or gate opens when it’s not supposed to or when it’s been open for too long.

Obviously, a good SIDA training program is important, but also important is security awareness. Whether an employee left the access point open or it just opened on its own, employee’s must be trained to report security issues when they see them.

To view the original AP article,


7 Responses to Airport Gates Left Open Not Uncommon

  1. It seems like many of these occurrences happen due to human failure to ensure they are closed. As Jeffrey said, with as many times as these gates are accessed daily, this problem is bound to happen. In this industry, security has to be tight and thorough, so problems such as this could pose potential threats to airline and airport security. It is good that many doors and gates are tied into a computerized security system because then the situation can be more promptly addressed and have less chance for a security breach to occur.

  2. I agree with CJ. It looks like the cause of the majority of these problems is human error. With the exception on the “gate fairy” coming and magically opening the doors or gates it is mainly a problem that occurs because a person wasnt paying close enough attention or didnt remember. Yes this is bound to happen on a regular basis because of the numerous amount of times those doors and gates are used on a day to day basis but it is also something that can and is prevented bythe computerized security system. Also because of the quick response by airport security it is less likely for a security breach to happen.

  3. This appears to be one of those issues that will always happen, regardless of preventative measures. The TSA should concentrate on determining severity of threats more efficiently and more quickly as to minimize passenger delays. Obviously safety is always the main priority and it should not be sacrificed in order to resolve a security breach.

    Does the TSA consider human factors issues in certain problem areas? Perhaps many of these issues could be avoided if the security measures were more “operator friendly.”

    • It’s called the “noise of the system.” There will always be some gap or some problem — technology is not perfect and neither are humans. Sometimes it’s just a slow news day, other days though it can point to more systemic problems.

      I agree, the industry is always trying to make things more user-friendly, but the challenge is that there has to be systems in place to monitor the systems that are in place so that when a system fails, the other failsafe systems detect it and notify the end-user. Airline avionics has the same issue: there can be a piece of technology that lets you know when the radar fails, but what about a system to tell you when the radar-fail detection system has failed?

  4. At first I thought it was quite frightening when I realized that airport gates are common to be left open and unattended, but then the thought of knowing that any individual must go through all the security measures needed to board a flight or access a terminal, made me realize that there really wouldn’t be much to worry about. Someone not authorized to access their certain airplane wouldn’t cause much harm just for the fact that they went through all the security so they shouldn’t have any harmful objects on them. Although this is an issue and airport workers should be blamed for leaving a gate unattended, it really seems to not be much of an issue if gates are left open and unattended.

    • Agreed, and it happens so rarely. The bigger issue would be if this became a habit of the airport. Thanks for your comments!

    • Gates and doors help make it more difficult to access the airfield, but obviously not impossible. Seems silly to put in prison level defenses when someone can attack an aircraft the second it takes off and clears the fence line. These layers are to help provide access control and to differentiate the normal, authorized traffic, from those folks who shouldn’t be there.

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