BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (FOX 9) - On the same night in February there were two security breaches at MSP Terminal 2, with passengers entering the secure part of the terminal through exit doors to retrieve forgotten items left on planes.
For Tony Nicholes it was his wallet. He had taken a red eye from Boston to Minneapolis.
“Just looked like a regular door. People came out and I went in,” said Nicholes. “By the time I got through the exit door to go the [baggage] carousel, I realized my wallet was still on the plane.”
It was 12:30 in the morning of February 26, and the Jet Blue counter was closed and TSA screeners were gone, so Nicholes made a split-second decision.
He went back to the gate through the clearly marked security exit, that reads: “Absolutely no entry. Automatic sliding door.”
“The doors I went out through, a passenger told me I can’t do that. Went through the doors and same cop who told me to go to Jet Blue was there," recalled Nicholes.
There is a reason police were waiting. Turns out, another passenger had done the same thing just 30 minutes earlier.
According to airport police reports, the passenger forgot his phone on the plane, when he went back through the exit.
Only in that case, it took almost 14 minutes before officers made contact with the suspect.
In both instances, an alarm went off and the suspects were captured on video surveillance.
A Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) spokesperson told FOX 9 there were four such security breaches last year.
Unlike the exits in Terminal 1, there is no TSA agent or security standing watch, because the security exit at Terminal 2 is automated.
It's the same kind of system being used for the skyway connection to the new airport hotel.
“It said ‘do not enter,’ but it didn’t say security door. If it did, I wouldn’t have went through,” Nicholes said.
MAC actually has two automated security exits behind the doors, side by side. Airport officials are running an experiment to see which kind is most effective.
Videos from both companies show how the automated exit systems are designed to prevent passengers from entering through the exits.
According to reports obtained by Fox 9, in both cases, the suspects slipped through when other passengers were coming through the exits.
The reports also read, "The unmanned exit performed to standard in alarming and notifying ECC (Emergency Communications Center) immediately." The manufacturers of both devices being tested declined to comment for this story.
Recently, MAC put out a request for bids for the automated exit technology. However, there was no mention of the security breaches.
“We’ve been testing unstaffed exit technology at Terminal 2 for quite some time with hope that we’d have a comparison with the two manufacturers,” said Heather Leider, Director of Airport Development.
But according to the bid request, “based on the initial installation…modifications to the exit equipment..” and “positioning of the automated exit doors is warranted..” and the replacement will be a “3 door system rather than the existing 2-door systems” to “prevent unauthorized access…”
Nicholes got a ticket for his troubles, with a potential fine of up to $1,000 and was told he may get extra scrutiny from TSA next time he travels.
“They (signs) could’ve said something like, ‘Really, this is security don’t go through this area,” said Nicholes.
In a statement to the FOX 9 Investigators, MAC said, “The automated exit at Terminal 2 is operating as designed and in every case in which a violation has occurred the suspect was quickly arrested. Even so, we are exploring modifications to further reduce the possibility of individuals entering the secure area through the exit.”
TSA gave its seal of approval four years ago to these types of automated exits. In the last couple of years, they have been installed at airports around the country. The sales pitch is that not only do they save money but they eliminate the potential of human error that comes with a guard standing watch over an exit.
TSA confirms its investigating the February 26 security breaches. In a statement, the agency said, “Under its Airport Security Program (ASP), each airport is required to control access to sterile and secure parts of the airport. TSA regularly inspects airports for compliance with ASPs and is reviewing this incident in cooperation with the airport police.”