NEWARK, N.J. — A Georgia man dashes through a checkpoint at the Atlanta airport and gets 10 days in jail. A hairdresser in a hurry bypasses security in Philadelphia and gets a $500 fine. A drunken man stumbles onto a Chicago airfield and gets 18 months' supervision. All caused major air travel delays costing millions of dollars — and all got what critics call a slap on the wrist.
The recent shutdown of the Newark, N.J., airport after a similar breach is drawing calls for harsher penalties and highlights concerns about punishments not much worse than what someone would get for tossing a hamburger wrapper out the car window on the New Jersey Turnpike.
At least one senator wants to make such trespasses a federal offense. Other ideas include six-figure fines and flying bans, though security experts and traveler advocates doubt whether harsher punishments will deter anybody from breaking the rules. They suggest a better way to prevent breaches is by improving training of airport security staff — and perhaps using new technology to help them.
"In most cases, it's a stupid mistake," said Douglas Laird, who runs an airport security consulting business in Reno, Nev. "Most people don't say: 'I'm going to breach.' "
The bill proposed by Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey will call for the tougher penalties, but he has not offered specifics other than calling for allowing the federal government to charge people who create scares — even those who are more bonehead than bomber. Such offenses are now regulated by local law and often fall far down the scale of criminal offenses.
The man charged in the Jan. 3 New Jersey case, Rutgers University graduate student Haisong Jiang, 28, faces only a $500 fine — the same as a first offense for littering in New Jersey.