When she was arrested at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport last November, prosecutors said 23-year-old Yaazmina Payton had attempted to stow away on an American Airlines flight so that she could go see rapper Jay-Z in Los Angeles.
Video obtained by NBC 5 Investigates, via an open records request, shows just how determined she really was. And it raises questions about why she was able to evade TSA personnel with relative ease two days in a row.
On one of those videos from Nov. 7, Payton is seen watching the TSA document checker, then ducking under the ropes and pushing past his podium while he is looking the other way. After that, it was no problem for her to make her way to an American Airlines gate, where another video shows her simply walking onto the Los Angeles-bound aircraft.
In that incident, Payton was discovered sitting on the airplane without a boarding pass and removed.
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But American indicated that after she said she had lost her pass and they couldn't find her in their system, a gate agent assumed she was booked on another carrier, and simply escorted her to the non-secure side of the airport without notifying police.
And that allowed her to try again, the next day.
Video from that day, Nov. 8, once again shows Payton ducking under the ropes undetected, then making her way into virtually deserted concourses in Terminal 3. After lounging in an empty gate area for some time, she is seen darting into a jetway where police say she once again made her way onto a Los Angeles-bound aircraft.
Once again she was discovered, but this time police were called.
Payton is free on bond while her trespassing case is pending. But her arrest raises troubling questions about how she was able to avoid detection with such ease, not once, but twice.
"My first impression is there needs to be a development of a security culture," says security consultant Jeffrey Price, the former assistant director of security at Denver International Airport. "It's one of those situations where complacency is really the enemy of the entire system."
Price said he believes authorities should be especially concerned about the weaknesses revealed by Payton's behavior.
"The challenge is, people are watching, and it's the wrong people that are watching — it's the terrorists, the bad guys, the people who want to breach the system," he said. "They carefully watch these types of incidents, they look at airports that have a higher number of breaches, if they can identify those, or airports where it seems security is not so much of an issue or security personnel are just overwhelmed."
NBC 5 Investigates examined Chicago police reports involving trespassers at O'Hare who were caught in secure areas of the airport, sneaking past the TSA or onto runways or the tarmac. The reports showed that those incidents have been climbing steadily over the past five years, and the rate continues to increase in 2021.
In fact, at the current rate, this year may be the highest since 2015. And those are just the incidents that are reported to police.
Price noted that someone evading the document checker still has to go through a magnetometer or other scan, and thus, a would-be stowaway may be limited in how much damage they could do.
"What are you doing once you get on the plane, what device have you tried to bring on, what weapon have you tried to bring on, what's the big plot here?" he asked. "And I think that's where we can take some solace."
Still, he said a larger question may be why no member of the public alerted authorities after Payton ducked under the ropes.
"There's how many passengers at that checkpoint that could have seen that occur, and could report it to TSA?" he asked. "And I think it's a reinforcement that security really is everybody's business."
Reached Thursday by NBC5 Investigates, Payton said when she tried to board the airplanes last November, she had been going through a difficult time after being injured in an accident.
"I was trying to get on a plane to go see Jay-Z," she said. "I was just trying to get my music heard."
Payton remains free on bond, with a court date later in March.
"I never had a ticket," she conceded. "The problem occurred when I got on the plane."
In a statement, TSA noted that Payton was screened at the X-ray and entered the secure area without any prohibited items. The agency did not address how a civilian was able to evade their trained personnel with such apparent ease on two consecutive days.