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Search The Luggage, Don't Steal It

National Guard soldiers patrolling Austin's main airport reported a security screener falling asleep on the job and another stealing money from an elderly passenger, among a dozen possible infractions this fall.

The lapses, reported to the Federal Aviation Administration, all involved Argenbright Security, already facing criticism at other airports for alleged violations of federal safety rules.

National Guard troops began patrolling Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and most other major airports in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

The soldiers said they have run through a terminal at least five times, frantically looking for passengers who had bypassed security checkpoints.

Passengers also averted pat-downs because an elderly screener was too feeble to bend down to wave a metal detector around their feet, the soldiers said, and some security workers haven't stopped X-ray conveyor belts long enough to properly inspect carry-on luggage. Another slept on the job, they said.

"It's good we are there," Chief Warrant Officer Jeff Turner, supervising the Texas National Guard's patrol duties at the airport, told the Austin American-Statesman for Tuesday's editions. "Our second set of eyes has made a difference."

He said as Argenbright has hired new employees, the number of problems at the airport has dropped.

Argenbright spokesman Brian Lott and officials of Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, who supervise the security company's Austin-Bergstrom contract, defended Argenbright's 100 workers and security practices.

The estimated 85,000 people who will use the airport this week are safe in one of the busiest periods for air travel, they say.

"We are happy with our security companies," said Southwest spokeswoman Brandy King. "If there is something where they aren't meeting the standards, of course that would be reviewed."

An Argenbright screener at Austin-Bergstrom was fired after he allegedly stole $100 from a woman as he searched her purse last month.

Airport spokeswoman Jackie Mayo referred all questions to Southwest.

Argenbright also provided security at Washington's Dulles Airport and the Newark, N.J., airport, the takeoff spots for the planes that crashed into the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field on Sept. 11.

Argenbright ceased operations last week at Boston's Logan International Airport after several breaches. In the past year, the company has been fined $1 million for hiring convicted felons.

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