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Valet attendants expected to search cars at airport

Rochester International Airport, N.Y. -- A relatively new security procedure at the airport has some asking questions and others expressing concerns.

It deals specifically with those customers who chose to use valet parking. The valet parking area is located at the end of the flight drop-off entrance to the terminal. That is an area where unoccupied cars are not allowed and airport security officials recognized that those cars waiting for a valet attendant to park them pose a potential risk.

On June 6th a new sign on the valet attendant booth informed customers that, “TSA requires an inspection of your vehicle when parked in front of the terminal.”

It was around that time that the airport updated its Airport Security Plan to include the search of those vehicles in the valet parking area. It was a plan that was approved the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) according to protocol.

"A cursory, less than 30-second look at the trunk passenger area and engine compartment, nothing more," explained Airport Director Michael Giardino of what this “search” entails.

"I don't like it I don't think that they should be searching your vehicle," said Diana Nevill who was traveling with her family. "I just don't want them in my glove compartment I just don't want them eventually maybe leaving stuff in my car, I would just feel violated.”

“I've done a lot of valet parking and I'm not convinced that they would find something that's a threat and if they find something that is a threat what would they do with it if I'm not there?” asked Maureen Dieckmann who often uses valet parking in her business travels. "I'd want to know why this guy is the one that has the authority to find things in my car."

The question about whether a valet is qualified to search, or inspect, vehicles is a question many asked. The TSA approves changes to the Airport Security Plan but securing the property and perimeter is the responsibility of local or state law enforcement.

The Airport’s director and a representative from Mapco, the company managing the valet parking service, tell 13WHAM News that each valet attendant receives training on what to look for when inspecting a customer’s vehicle. Each employee is subject to a background check before hiring and routinely receives tests or training during their employment.

"This is a cursory look as you would if you go to a concert or a Bills game or an Amerks game,” said Giardino. “It is a cursory look for specific items, which I won't discuss, and the folks have been trained to do that."

The airport director also reiterated that the valet attendants are not directed to search for other items in a customer’s vehicle even if they could be of interest to law enforcement. Even knowing that, some customers remain concerned about the new procedure.

“I just don't think that they're certified to do that," said Nevill. "Either TSA or Sheriffs, police, that is basically it but not the valet attendant, no."

"What we're doing is fully approved (and) we're trying to provide a service to our customers,” responded Giardino. “The customers always have a choice they don't have to use valet they could shuttle, park in the garage, use other venues, get dropped off but we're trying to provide this service and TSA has afforded this ability to do that.”

Giardino said the Airport Security Plan is a “living and breathing document” that is constantly being looked at as various safety and security concerns surface.

13WHAM News contacted other airports in the Northeast about this policy and learned the following:

Philadelphia International: Does not have valet service anywhere near the airport terminal and there are no procedures in place for parking attendants to search vehicles on airport grounds.

LaGuardia Airport in NYC: They do not have valet service and do not search vehicles on airport grounds.

JFK in NYC: Valet service does exist and there is no search of vehicles on airport grounds.

Boston: Valet service exists and a representative told 13WHAM News, “Why would we search your car? Why would the TSA tell us to do that? I guess we look for dents and stuff.”

Syracuse: The airport does not have valet service and does not have a policy on searching vehicles. TSA has not alerted or directed the airport to search vehicles but when searches of vehicles have been conducted it is law enforcement that conducts those searches.

Sean Carroll, 13WHAM-TV
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