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I was watching some clips from Catch Me If You Can starring Leonardo DeCaprio as Frank Abagnale.

I was wondering- If brought a ticket on an airline today, came dressed up like a pilot, would you, be able to sit in the cockpit? (assuming pilots are normally allowed to jumpseat in that jurisdiction) Say you come onboard the plane and present them a fake ID at the door. Is there anything to prevent this from happening, or are we still as vulnerable to this type of trick like in the movie?

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  • $\begingroup$ You wont be able to bluff your way in, but before i can elaborate I need to verify it isn't SSI. You need specific authorization to occupy a flight deck jumpseat. $\endgroup$ – casey Mar 2 '14 at 15:33
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    $\begingroup$ @casey curious because of this incident: edition.cnn.com/2013/03/22/travel/… $\endgroup$ – Thunderstrike Mar 2 '14 at 16:15
  • $\begingroup$ In my opinion, in the period before I retired in 1999, it would have been easily done. One problem, though, would have been to make sure they didn't use a name that was on a scab list if approaching a captain that was a dedicated union member. I have no idea what the situation is now, but I'd be very surprised if you could get away with it. Then again, the talent of people like Frank Abagnale is to get people to do what they normally would not. $\endgroup$ – Terry Mar 2 '14 at 22:22
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    $\begingroup$ Post 9/11, just to even try this, you'd be facing a heck of a long time in prison - probably not a very nice one either! $\endgroup$ – Paul Leigh Mar 3 '14 at 9:15
  • $\begingroup$ @Manfred I've come to the conclusion that to provide a real answer either way, I would have to invoke SSI and I don't feel it is responsible to do so. I started a meta Q meta.aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/258/… to discuss if Q's like that are on-topic as any substantive answer must involve SSI (to justify a NO or to explain a YES). $\endgroup$ – casey Mar 4 '14 at 3:48
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A lot has changed since the Frank Abagnale / "Catch Me If You Can" days, and riding as a non-revenue passenger (particularly in the cockpit jump seat) is no longer not as simple as grabbing a passable captain's uniform, polishing your shoes up, and smooth-talking the flight crew.

Someone seeking a ride in an airplane jump seat would still have to pass through airport security and prove their identity & authorization to occupy such a seat to the satisfaction of the crew operating the flight, which would likely include checking credentials that are at lease somewhat difficult to forge.

So in short it's possible – if someone is particularly adept at social engineering, forgery, and has at least a working knowledge of airport & airline security procedures they might get away with it – but it's extremely unlikely, and as has been pointed out the consequences if and when you get caught are particularly unpleasant these days.

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  • $\begingroup$ In pre-9/11 days, I was a grad student doing research on pilots. I had a letter from the president of a major airline authorizing me to sit in the jumpseat. That letter, and my pilots license, were enough to get me through security, on the airplane and into the jumpseat anytime. But, things are different now. $\endgroup$ – Adam Feb 26 '15 at 20:23
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Absolutely not, if by “sit in the cockpit” you mean after the door is closed, during the flight, at least on scheduled airline flights in the United States.

Airlines verify the identity and employment status of would-be jumpseat passengers not only through documents presented by the passenger, which might—as mentioned in another answer—be forged, stolen, or or out of date, but also through databases like the Cockpit Access Security System (CASS), operated by Rockwell Collins. CASS includes the names and photographs of crew members from each participating airline, and entries are deleted immediately if a crew member’s employment ends.

(I appreciate others’ concern about disclosure of sensitive security information, but please note that everything in this answer is from public-domain sources, and I am not a “covered person” under the relevant regulations, 49 CFR 1520.)

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  • $\begingroup$ in addition, I'd not be at all surprised if they get lists of any non-revs approved for the flight, and anyone not on the list gets turned away instantly. They also will recognise any uniform of operators they regularly encounter (which means anyone flying from the place they're at when you attempt to break in this way) and call security when someone walks up and demands to be let on the aircraft without papers who's not recognised. $\endgroup$ – jwenting Mar 7 '14 at 8:25
  • $\begingroup$ Does this apply across regions and airlines or is limited to only the US? $\endgroup$ – asheeshr Mar 9 '14 at 14:28

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