On January 2, a passenger en route to Tokyo boarded Delta Flight DL295 in Atlanta with a loaded gun. The woman made it through the security checkpoint at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport undetected.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) reports that the woman, who has not been identified mistakenly packed the gun and forgot. Once she realized her oversight, she alerted the authorities who met her when the plane landed at Tokyo Narita International Airport the next day, officials said. The incident coincided with the eleventh day of the federal government shutdown, which sparked concerns that security agents, who were expected to work without pay, may have called in sick.


TSA spokesperson Michael Bilello said Monday that the shutdown was unrelated to the security violation. He insisted that the gun was not detected because “standard procedures were not followed.” Bilello added that five percent of TSA employees missed work on the day of the flight, which he said was the same rate as the year before.

According to Bilello, the agency, which has 51,000 airport security agents nationwide, does not inform on staffing rates for each airport. He also didn’t confirm what “standard procedures” were not followed. “There was not a staffing issue as some are speculating or alluding to,” Bilello. “TSA will hold those responsible appropriately accountable.”

On Monday, the TSA reported that 7.6 percent of employees failed to show up for work, twice as many as the year before. The Atlanta airport has implemented “contingency plans” as a result of the absences. In the US, 3,957 firearms, 84 percent of which were loaded, were found in carry-on bags in 2017, according to the TSA. In Atlanta, the busiest airport in the world, 290 weapons were discovered last year – an 18-point increase from the total retrieved in 2017.

Travelers who carry guns without a firearm license will be arrested, the TSA said. Fines for carrying a gun, whether a passenger has a license or not, can reach $13,000. Bilello stated that the Delta passenger had been “fully cooperative with authorities.”

There are 800,000 government employees working without pay or on furlough during the shutdown. The Air Traffic Controllers Union, Aviation Safety Inspectors Union and air travel experts have condemned the consequences of the shutdown, but the TSA insists that flying is still safe. In an effort to provide some financial relief during the shutdown, the TSA has said it will issue a day's pay for those affected by lost wages and will award $500 bonuses for those who worked during the holidays.

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"While I realize this is not what you are owed for your hard work ... and what you deserve, I hope these actions alleviate some of the financial hardship many of you are facing," TSA Administrator David Pekoske said.