For the most part, airport background checks are dictated by requirements put in place by two federal agencies: the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the Federal Aviation Administration. The TSA is the same organization responsible for the security processes that passengers must go through before boarding an aircraft. The FAA is the branch of the United States Department of Transportation responsible for regulating civil aviation. When an airport or airline conducts a background check on an employee—be it an airport employee, a pilot, or a flight attendant—those entities must abide by TSA and FAA requirements.
In 2015, the TSA updated its airline and airport background check requirements. The overhaul was due to a December 2014 incident in which a baggage handler who worked at the Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport was caught smuggling firearms onto commercial airplanes. The new policies required fingerprint-based criminal checks for certain airport employees, as well as “real-time checks,” or ongoing criminal monitoring, for all aviation workers. The new rules also instituted a policy that requires airport and airline employees to go through standard TSA screenings (airport security) whenever they travel as passengers rather than as crew.
The FAA requires airports to conduct employee screenings that start with identity verification checks and employment verification checks. The employment verification process involves a look back at the last 10 years of a candidate’s employment history. For the last five years of employment history, the airport must obtain written verification for each job. The FAA only requires that the airport conduct a criminal history check on a new hire if certain “triggers” are uncovered in the employment verification process. These triggers include:
- Gaps of employment that are 12 consecutive months or longer, should the candidate provide “unsatisfactory explanation” for those periods.
- Application claims that the candidate cannot substantiate
- Any inconsistencies found on the application or between the application and the employment verification check
- A situation where the airport operator has reason to believe that the candidate has been convicted of a crime
If the airport notices one of these triggers, then it must proceed to the next step of the airport background check: a fingerprint-based FBI criminal history check. The FAA has a lengthy list of “disqualifying crimes.” Such convictions include murder, espionage, kidnapping, armed robbery, destruction of aircraft, and carrying a weapon or bomb aboard an aircraft.