Airport Background Checks and What They Include

Working at an airport can be an exciting career opportunity. Individuals may work in many roles within an airport. They may be employees of an airline company, or they could be airport support workers. Others work for companies that act as tenants inside the airport. The diverse nature and large number of jobs in these locations create unique security concerns. Those concerns are especially prominent in today’s environment of security threats. Airport background checks help foster a safer space to protect passengers and other workers from possible harm.

What happens during an airport background check today? The answer may depend on whether you work in a secure area or not. Those who work beyond the security checkpoint may need special badges. These badges come with additional airport background check requirements. Here’s your quick guide to what to expect from these employment opportunities.

Who Sets the Standards for These Checks?

For the most part, two United States federal agencies make airport security rules. The first is the TSA or Transportation Security Administration. The other is the FAA or Federal Aviation Administration. The TSA is also the organization responsible for screening passengers before boarding. The FAA is an agency of the Department of Transportation. Both the TSA and the FAA set requirements relevant to those working in an airport.

In 2015, the TSA updated its airline and airport criminal record check requirements. The overhaul was due to a December 2014 incident. At that time, a baggage handler who worked at the Atlanta airport was caught smuggling firearms. The new policies required fingerprint-based criminal checks for certain airport employees. These rules also required real-time checks, or ongoing criminal monitoring, for all aviation workers. The off-duty crew must also undergo regular security screening when traveling as passengers.

What About FAA Background Check Requirements?

The FAA maintains broad control over the screening requirements for most parts of an airport. All non-public areas and areas past the security checkpoint require ID badges. These areas are called a Security Identification Display Area, or SIDA. Specific rules for background checks apply to anyone who will work in these areas. What do these rules include?

Primarily, FAA requirements mandate employers to check employment history. Specific verification checks are also necessary. For example, the employer must verify the individual’s identity. The FAA requires you to confirm two forms of ID, one of which must include the individual’s pictures. You must then inquire into the last ten years of the applicant’s employment history.

It’s a requirement to obtain written verification of every job held by an applicant for the last five years. Employers must document the date they make contact with an applicant’s prior companies. You must also note how you contacted them, e.g., by email or phone.

What Triggers an FAA Airport Background Check for Employment?

The FAA requires that job applications contain a question about criminal history. This rule supersedes any local ban-the-box laws that would otherwise require a delay. There is a specific list of disqualifying crimes to include on the application. Individuals must report whether they have any such convictions. If they do, you must disqualify them. A formal criminal history check only occurs under certain conditions the FAA calls “triggers.” These triggers include:

  • Gaps of employment that are 12 consecutive months or longer. Applicants must explain these gaps. A criminal background check must occur if they cannot provide a satisfactory explanation, such as illness.
  • Unsubstantiated claims on an application, such as a job you can’t confirm.
  • “Significant inconsistencies” in what the individual reports on the application.
  • A situation where the airport operator has reason to believe that the candidate has disqualifying convictions.

These triggers require the employer to order a fingerprint-based FBI criminal history check through the airport itself. The FAA has a lengthy list of disqualifying crimes. Such convictions include murder, forgery, armed robbery, extortion, or illegal drug distribution. If the background check returns any of these convictions, the applicant will not move forward.

Other Screening Possibilities and Final Thoughts

Airports and their tenants may conduct other background checks not mandated by the FAA or TSA. For example, those driving airport vehicles on the ramp will likely need a DOT-approved background check process. This includes drug testing and a driving record check. Sometimes, employers may use credit reports to gauge potential financial risks. Job applicants should review the requirements before applying.

Keeping airports safe and secure is a vital effort today. The potential consequences of failing to do due diligence could be tragic. For those reasons, the TSA and FAA enforce clear guidelines for airport background checks. Companies operating in or in partnership with airports should review their procedures and confirm their compliance today.

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Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments

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