SALT LAKE CITY — A man stole a misplaced Southwest Airlines boarding pass, made it through airport security and got as far as the flight check-in gate, where the boarding pass was approved, before airport officials were alerted and confronted him in an incident earlier this month, airport police said.
Michael Salata, 61, was arrested Nov. 5 shortly after checking into Southwest Airlines Flight 1760 from Salt Lake City to Oakland, California.
Salata, of Salt Lake City, is being investigated on suspicion of fraudulent handling of a recordable writing, a third-degree felony, said Salt Lake Airport Police Chief Craig Vargo.
Salata allegedly snatched the boarding pass from a Southwest Airlines kiosk, where it had been printed and then accidentally left. He was confronted around 9 p.m. after the woman who had misplaced the pass checked into the flight using a replacement boarding pass uploaded to her phone, Vargo said. The woman was just a few passengers behind Salata in line to board the airplane, police said.
"He tried to make it seem like it was a mistake, that the boarding pass printed incorrectly or that he grabbed the wrong boarding pass, (something) to that effect," Vargo said.
The chief didn't know whether police detained Salata on the jetway leading to the plane or whether he had found a seat on the aircraft.
Salata, a registered sex offender in Utah, reportedly cleared security while showing the woman's boarding pass. He had no items with him that would be cause for alarm, Vargo said.
"It wasn’t like he was able to get anything past the screening checkpoint that would have been a risk to anybody else," he said.
Transportation Security Authority spokeswoman authority Lori Dankers didn't say whether the TSA agent who cleared Salata was disciplined or whether he or she is still employed by the agency.
"We are aware of the incident. Our TSA agent made a mistake to properly identify the individual," Dankers said in an email. "However, there are multiple layers of security in place. Both the ticketed passenger and the other individual were fully screened.”
Southwest Airlines spokeswoman Brandy King said in an email that "all protocols were followed by our employees," adding that she was first notified of the incident regarding Salata by a reporter.
"All passengers must go through the same TSA security screening before arriving at a gate. The security screeners are tasked with verifying a passenger’s boarding pass and identification," King said. "Our systems are built to provide notification if a passenger’s boarding pass has already been scanned. In the event that we have two of the same boarding passes, we would work to verify that the correct passengers were onboard and take appropriate action with local authorities, if necessary."
Vargo, who has worked at the airport for more than 25 years, said he had never seen someone check into a flight the way Salata did.
"We have a very good working relationship with TSA," Vargo said. "Unfortunately, I think a human element (is to blame). Individuals make mistakes, but luckily we do have a layered approach and multiple people out here looking for things."