NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — At a time of heightened alert, officials at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday were looking into why passengers from an international flight were accidentally allowed to skip immigration and customs at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
In one exclusive photo supplied to CBS 2’s Don Champion from a passenger, the confusion is clearly evident on the faces of Delta Airlines Flight 3 passengers.
The flight from London Heathrow Airport to JFK landed just before 8:30 p.m. Monday. Once at the gate, instead of Delta sending the 54 passengers onboard to immigration and customs — which is required — they were mistakenly allowed to bypass the process all together.
“It’s a mistake,” said security expert Robert Strang, “and obviously, it’s a bad mistake.”
Strang, of the Investigative Management Group, said the immigration process is critical. Among other reasons, passengers from international flights are required to go through immigration and customs to ensure they’re cleared and safe to enter the country.
In this case, Strang said security likely wasn’t compromised, because the passengers were checked in London.
“Most of the names that are out there, we share,” Strang said. “So if there’s someone who has criminal intent; if there is a terrorist; if there is someone who might be carrying some type of explosive, they would never have been able to get on that airplane.”
Airport officials eventually spotted the mistake by Delta and sent the passengers to immigration. But by that time CBS 2 is told some passengers had already left.
In a statement, Delta spokesman Morgan Durrant said the airline is looking into the mishap, and that “customer security is of vital importance, and Delta makes every effort to follow appropriate procedures.”
But Strang emphasized the consequences of such a mistake could be extremely dangerous.
“With things like this — these routine kind of checks — you know, you really have to stay on top of it, because you don’t want to have something happen where somebody does slip through,” he said.
To be clear, officials said they do know the names of all the passengers who were on the flight Monday night.
The initial problem appears to be that the passengers were all let out of their plane in an area where they did not have to get screened by immigration.
The photos of the passengers that appear in this story were given to CBS 2 by the husband of a CBS employee who was a passenger.
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