The Strange Ethics of Airline Security

It has happened yet again. Airline security has been breached, and it had nothing to do with the passengers. The latest case of a security breakdown has occurred overseas to an airline called JetStar.

The airline worker was caught on video as he was opening passenger bags in the luggage holds of an airliner that was about to depart. He was stealing the contents. The airline upon seeing the video vowed a full investigation.  This is airline security gone wrong – clearly an ethics breach.  A spokesperson said in part:

“We have launched an immediate investigation and will work with Airports of Thailand, our ground handler BAGS and our local security company to ensure the security of our customers’ property on-board our flights,” the statement continued.

For those of you who might not know, many airlines use subcontractors to provide services – such as airline security for baggage. BAGS is one such company. They provide the baggage services for numerous airlines in several airports around the world including the United States. As I watched the video of the employee stealing a Bluetooth, it occurred to me that he could almost as easily be putting something into a bag.  Taking out or putting in, either way an airline security breach.

Subcontractor Era

Many airlines not only subcontract for baggage handling services, but certainly for cleaning, aircraft repair, food and beverage services, security and other functions. It is understandable. Airlines want to be in the transportation business, they long ago abandoned the concept of being vertically integrated. It is not rare for jet engine maintenance to be done “off-shore.” It is erroneous to believe that airlines are responsible for all of their own repairs.

For the most part, it all works very smoothly.

We passengers buy our tickets in various ways, go through airline security, board our aircraft and reach our destinations. We assume (maybe even block out) that everything behind the scenes hums along with precision. We fail to recognize – and what the airlines don’t always want to admit – is that the clocklike precision of multiple subcontractors doesn’t always work. In this case, an airline subcontractor stealing from luggage. Is this an isolated incident, or do we fail to believe people when they tell us that something was missing from their luggage.

In order for fraud to exist, there must be an opportunity, need and rationalization. This three-legged “problem” is as true of a baggage handler as it is for the CEO of a major airline. In this case, the baggage handler spotted an opportunity to open bags and steal valuables, his need might have been the need to make money or to get a piece of equipment he couldn’t normally afford, and his rationalization was quite simple; he could get away with it.

After all, once your bag makes it onto the belt behind the counter do you have any idea who sees it or where it goes? Nor do I.

The ethical part in all of this is the ethical bond not so much between the airline and its passengers (ethics doesn’t normally come up in commercials!), but between the airline and its various subcontractors.

We may be told that a theft like this is a very rare occurrence. In truth, we just don’t know. Asking around, several of my fellow travelers have at times felt as though things went missing from their baggage, or that the contents were rearranged. It seems as though we need a code of ethics and it has not been forthcoming.

Why are ethics a frightening concept?

Ethics training among airline employees, airline subcontractors and airline executives have not been mentioned to any great extent. It seems, almost, to evoke fear. “Customer Service” is always played up, played up until the cows come home, but what there really needs to be is more of an emphasis on “Airline Ethics,” and high ethical standards.

I understand the need for TSA and I understand the tight security. I travel way too much to find fault with it. I hope the technology improves to make it faster, but it is essential. I do not hold the airlines accountable for security lines or pat-downs of 95-year-old passengers.

However, I do find great fault with a system of subcontractors that do not seem to hold any great allegiance to the ultimate customer, you or me. I call upon all airlines, domestic or foreign to give as much attention to ethics as they spout about service.




Posted by Chuck Gallagher in ethics and tagged , , , , , , .

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