24 Feb

“Border” search and ID demand from passengers on a domestic flight

Earlier this week at least two US Customs and Border Protection officers boarded a domestic Delta Air Lines flight from San Francisco when it arrived at JFK Airport in New York, stood at the doorway as passengers disembarked, and “requested” that each passenger hand over their identification “documents”.

CBP says that this was a “request“.  One passenger told Rolling Stone, “the Delta flight attendant alerted passengers, ‘You’ll need to show your papers to agents waiting outside the door.'” As shown in photos posted to Twitter by passengers here and here, the agents appear to have been between the passengers they were questioning and the exit, closing them in so that they couldn’t have left.

It’s often unclear whether a statement of what law enforcement officers “need” is a request or a demand. Another passenger, a photo editor for Vice News,  says passengers were given an order, not a potentially ambiguous statement of “need”: “We were told we couldn’t disembark without showing our ‘documents.'”

Many air travelers in the US have become inured to requests or demands for ID documents by airline clerks and TSA checkpoint staff and contractors before they are allowed to board domestic flights. But the presence of Customs and Border Protection officers on a domestic flight, and ID checks after an otherwise uneventful flight, have prompted many questions.

Is this normal? Is this legal? Should it be legal? And what should you do if this happens to you?

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