This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Friday morning, we told the story of a Romanian man who flew on a United Dreamliner from London (LHR) to Los Angeles (LAX) without ever having booked a ticket. Worse yet, he wasn’t authorized to travel to the United States, which landed him — and the airline — in serious hot water upon Flight 935’s arrival in LA.

From my discussions with the various parties involved, I’m fairly certain of the sequence of events:

  • A female United passenger dropped her boarding pass in the terminal at LHR
  • The female passenger asked an agent to print another boarding pass
  • An unidentified man, who is a Romanian citizen, found the lost boarding pass
  • With said pass to LAX in hand, he decided to change his travel plans on the spot
  • The man successfully boarded United 935 to LAX
  • Upon boarding, he sat in a random open economy seat
  • After takeoff, United determined that there was an extra passenger onboard
  • US Customs and Border Protection met the Boeing 787 upon arrival at LAX
  • Passengers were instructed to deplane one-by-one
  • The stowaway was identified, questioned and taken into FBI custody

The big question that remains is why United gate agents in London allowed him to board using a boarding pass in the name of another passenger, who also still managed to travel on the flight to LAX.

An LAX-bound 787-9 Dreamliner at London Heathrow. Photo by Zach Honig.
An LAX-bound 787-9 Dreamliner at London Heathrow. Photo by Zach Honig.

I’ve flown to the US from Heathrow’s Terminal 2 several times. As I recall, for connecting passengers who hadn’t entered the UK, boarding passes are scanned at the security checkpoint, but IDs aren’t checked. Passports are verified either by airline employees or contractors at the departure gate, and passes are scanned just before boarding.

When one agent verifies documents before another scans a boarding pass, identification typically isn’t checked a second time — the passport checker clearly made a mistake here in approving the man for travel even though his documents didn’t match.

The stowaway likely boarded the aircraft before the passenger whose name was on the pass, in which case he wouldn’t have been flagged during the boarding pass scan. Perhaps expecting the boarding pass owner to still board as well, he likely took another seat, which ultimately ended up being unassigned.

When the rightful boarding pass holder tried to board, the scanner likely flagged the duplicate. Perhaps assuming a colleague had scanned her in as well, the gate agent dismissed the duplicate scan alert and allowed her to board. She took her assigned seat, which was empty, and didn’t think twice about the boarding pass alert.

Now, let me be clear — this is entirely my opinion, but as someone who’s traveled on hundreds of international flights, it certainly seems like a reasonable explanation.

Arriving flight information is accessible to CBP agents, and Global Entry kiosks.
Arriving flight information is accessible to CBP agents, and Global Entry kiosks.

The stowaway clearly hadn’t considered the immigration process, or, more likely, wasn’t at all familiar with US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) arrival procedures. Even if it hadn’t been determined that there was an extra passenger onboard, the stowaway would have stuck out like a sore thumb when he tried to pass through immigration without appearing on the flight manifest, which CBP agents have access to. Not to mention that he didn’t have a visa, which is required for Romanian citizens, and therefore could not travel to the United States.

As a result of this July 1 adventure, he’s likely facing some serious federal charges in the US, assuming he hasn’t already gone before a judge. There’s a clear lesson to be learned here, though: As thrilling as an adventure like this may seem, if you ever come across a discarded boarding pass, hand it over to an airline agent or throw it away — traveling as a stowaway will land you in very hot water, and, perhaps worst of all, you won’t be earning any frequent-flyer points.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

The American Express Platinum card has some of the best perks out there: cardholders enjoy the best domestic lounge access (Delta SkyClubs, Centurion Lounges, and Priority Pass), a $200 annual airline fee credit as well as up to $200 in Uber credits, and mid-tier elite status at SPG, Marriott, and Hilton. Combined with the 60,000 point welcome offer -- worth $1,140 based on TPG's valuations -- this card is a no-brainer for frequent travelers. Here are 5 reasons you should consider this card, as well as how you can figure out if the $550 annual fee makes sense for you.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
  • Enjoy Uber VIP status and free rides in the U.S. up to $15 each month, plus a bonus $20 in December. That can be up to $200 in annual Uber savings.
  • 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.
  • 5X Membership Rewards points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com.
  • Enjoy access to the Global Lounge Collection, the only credit card airport lounge access program that includes proprietary lounge locations around the world.
  • Receive complimentary benefits with an average total value of $550 with Fine Hotels & Resorts. Learn More.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit, up to $200 per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline.
  • Get up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue on your Platinum Card®. Enrollment required.
  • $550 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
N/A
Annual Fee
$550
Balance Transfer Fee
See Terms
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.