Sen. Charles Schumer Wednesday called for tighter screening of employees at U.S. airports after a Delta Air Lines baggage handler was arrested and charged with helping smuggle handguns in carry-on luggage onto commercial flights from Atlanta to New York City.
Schumer (D-N.Y.) said while pilots and flight attendants are required to pass through airport metal detectors, workers who repair and clean planes, load luggage and work in areas beyond the security checkpoints are not screened.
The senator asked the Transportation Security Administration to require all airline and airport employees to pass through a metal detector each day before work.
"When guns, drugs and even explosives are as easy to carry on board a plane as a neck pillow, then we have to seriously -- and immediately -- overhaul our airport practices," Schumer said at a news conference in Washington, D.C.
Lisa Farbstein, a spokeswoman for TSA, did not directly respond to Schumer's call for tighter screening.
"TSA administers security threat assessments and airport criminal checks for all airline employees prior to receiving credentials and access privileges," Farbstein said in an email. "This is a recurring vetting process that involves random checks."
Schumer's call for tighter screening of all airlines and airport employees came a month after an investigation into a gun trafficking operation by Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson.
Investigators in Thompson's office discovered that baggage handler Eugene Harvey, of College Park, Georgia -- who didn't have to pass metal detectors when he reported for work -- carried weapons in backpacks into secured areas of Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, where he handed the weapons to Mark Henry, of Brooklyn, a former Delta employee.
Henry then boarded the planes with the illegal firearms and brought them to New York, where they were sold, Thompson said. In a span of seven months, from May to December 2014, Thompson said Henry made 17 trips between Atlanta and New York, each time carrying weapons on board undetected.
"In this age of terrorism, basic protections such as screening airport employees is critical to the safety of our country," Thompson said at the news conference.
The cases of Harvey and Henry are pending. Three other men, all from Brooklyn, were also arrested and charged in connection with the gun trafficking ring, authorities said.