Loophole allows woman to breach airport security

Updated: 2009-06-05 07:39

(HK Edition)

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TAIPEI: A check-in loophole at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport allowed a Canadian woman of Chinese descent to enter an off-limits area of the terminal and remain there for more than 40 hours, the Aviation Police Office said yesterday.

The woman, identified only by her surname Chen, arrived in Taiwan late last month on a backpacking holiday. It wasn't long however before she ran afoul of the authorities and was deported Tuesday on a flight for Hong Kong. The deportation order came after she was discovered to have used another person's boarding pass to enter a controlled area a day earlier.

"The Canadian passport holder had apparently violated our immigration law," said an aviation police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The officer said preliminary investigations determined that Chen was scheduled to leave Taiwan June 16. However, on June 1, she went to a self-service check-in counter operated by an airline and secured a boarding pass under someone else's name. Chen then entered a controlled area and spent time strolling around.

Later she checked into the airport's transit hotel for an overnight stay.

The security breach went undiscovered for hours until the airline noticed that Chen had not been on the flight taking her out of Taiwan. The airline called the aviation police.

A broad search commenced throughout the terminal. When Chen was located at last, she was asked to explain how she managed to acquire a boarding pass, and get past the immigration counter. The woman's account revealed a loophole in the air carrier's self-service online check-in system.

According to the police officer, the automated system mistakenly issued a boarding pass to Chen in the name of another passenger named Chen, scheduled aboard the same flight.

Since the carrier's self-service check-in system was not linked to its regular check-in counter, the fact that two boarding passes were issued in the same passenger's name went unnoticed.

No explanation was offered as to why Chen advanced her scheduled departure date by more than two weeks nor was there an explanation for why she entered an off-limits area after securing a boarding pass in someone else's name, the police officer said. Then, she didn't just enter the secure area but stayed there for over 40 hours.

The police officer speculated that immigration officers may have been careless, failing to notice that the name on the boarding pass and the name on the traveler's passport were different.

The police officer said self-service check-in facilities usually are installed by the air carriers. Taiwan's China Airlines, Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific Airways and US-based United Airlines have kiosks at the airport that allow e-ticket passengers bound for visa-free destinations to bypass the check-in counters and get their boarding passes in as little as 30 seconds.

Major local airlines associations have been informed of the incident, the officer said, adding that the Aviation Police Office has suggested that air carriers take steps to plug any possible loopholes in their online and self-service check-in systems.

Airport immigration officials also said they will tighten checks to ensure that the names on boarding passes match the names shown on passengers' passports.

China Daily/CNA

(HK Edition 06/05/2009 page2)