LOS ANGELES – A Nigerian American clutching another traveler's expired boarding pass made it through a New York airport federal security checkpoint and boarded a Virgin America jetliner to Los Angeles International Airport, authorities said Thursday.
The incident has raised questions about the effectiveness of airport and airline screening procedures.
Days later, Olajide Oluwaseun Noibi tried to board a Delta flight from Los Angeles to Atlanta with another expired pass and was arrested and charged with being a stowaway aboard an aircraft, the FBI said.
He could face up to five years in prison if convicted, FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said. Noibi is expected to appear in a Los Angeles federal courtroom on Friday.
Investigators say Noibi, 24, boarded Virgin America Flight 415 at John F. Kennedy International Airport last Friday night. The flight crew didn't realize an extra passenger was onboard until mid-flight when he was spotted sitting in a seat that was supposed to be empty.
In an affidavit, FBI Agent Kevin Hogg said flight attendants asked Noibi for a boarding pass and he presented one that was a day old and had someone else's name on it. He also showed a University of Michigan identification card with his picture on it.
The crew determined that Noibi's name wasn't on the flight manifest.
University of Michigan spokeswoman Kelly Cunningham said Noibi is not a current student but was enrolled as an engineering student at the Ann Arbor university between 2004 and 2006.
Eimiller said Noibi is a U.S. citizen who told investigators he lives in Atlanta.
The boarding pass used in New York belonged to a man who said his pass went missing from his pocket on his way to the airport on June 23 and was issued a new one at the ticket counter. Noibi is suspected of boarding the plane with the expired pass the next day.
Identity checks at airport security checkpoints were put in place as one of many new security measures after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The federal document checkers have basic fraudulent identification training.
"Every passenger that passes through security checkpoints is subject to many layers of security including thorough physical screening at the checkpoint," Transportation Security Administration spokesman Greg Soule said. "TSA's review of this matter indicates that the passenger went through screening."
TSA would not comment on what else happened, citing an ongoing FBI investigation.
Eimiller said the Virgin America flight crew asked law enforcement to meet the plane on arrival early Saturday at Los Angeles International Airport.
There was no immediate threat to the aircraft, so the flight wasn't diverted, Eimiller said.
Virgin America spokeswoman Patricia Condon said the crew kept Noibi — who slept for much of the flight — under surveillance but at no time felt any threat.
Hogg met the flight and detained and questioned Noibi.
"He wasn't arrested at that time. Beyond traveling without a ticket there was no immediate threat," Eimiller said. She said agents let Noibi go after he cleared a background check, and they spent the next few days gathering evidence to substantiate allegations that he was traveling on a boarding pass that didn't belong to him.
Noibi spent several days in Southern California before returning to the Los Angeles airport and trying to board an early Wednesday flight on Delta Air Lines bound for Atlanta. The FBI said he again presented an expired boarding pass at the departure gate and had no valid identification.
When questioned, Noibi acknowledged he did not pay for the Virgin America flight and explained that he traveled to Los Angeles to recruit people for his software business, the affidavit said.
He also said he was able to go through security screening Tuesday in Los Angeles by presenting a boarding pass, his student ID and a police report that his U.S. passport had been stolen. However, he spent the night at the gate after not getting on a Tuesday flight to Atlanta.
He claims his boarding pass then expired and he was denied access to the Wednesday flight.
A search of his bag found 10 expired boarding passes, none of them with his name, authorities said. Noibi was then arrested.
Erroll Southers, a security expert and former top official with the Los Angeles Airport Police Department, said it was too early to determine a motive. However, he said he was troubled that 10 other boarding passes allegedly were found.
"I'm not quite sure I buy into the theory that he was just flying for free especially when he has 10 other boarding passes in other names in his possession," Southers said.
Noibi's actions prove it's possible to breach airport security systems with a flimsy ID and an expired boarding pass, he said.
Noibi remained in custody.
Associated Press writers John Mone in Los Angeles, Eileen Sullivan in Washington, Jeff Karoub in Detroit and Ulana Ilnytzky in New York contributed to this story