Edith Vega looked away for “one second” to print her boarding pass, she told police. But that was all the time it took for her 2-year-old son, indulging a curiosity that has struck even grown-up travelers, to climb up on a baggage conveyor belt behind a ticket counter at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
Surveillance video footage shows the child’s ride Monday afternoon taking him through a behind-the-scenes labyrinth that few travelers ever see. Footage shows Vega and airline workers rush to the belt and peer through the flaps that bags go through, looking for her son.
According to the video, the toddler climbed over suitcases in a moving obstacle course, tunneled through an X-ray screening machine, headed up a chute and finally ended up in a Transportation Security Administration screening room, where several agents spotted him and rushed to help.
According to an incident report written by the Atlanta Police Department, officers found the child with a “severely swollen and bruised” right hand. Fire-rescue workers treated the injury before taking him and his mother to a hospital.
Vega, of Lawrenceville, Ga., told WSB-TV in Atlanta that authorities said her son’s journey lasted five minutes. She told the station she wanted to jump on the belt to follow her son but wasn’t allowed.
In a statement, Spirit Airlines said the boy was in a section of the ticket counter that wasn’t open or attended by staff.
“The child was able to access a back baggage area via a bag belt and sustained some injuries,” the airline said. “We are currently working with TSA and airport officials to ensure all protocol was followed. We wish the child the best in their recovery.”
Vega, the boy’s mother, told the TV station his hand was fractured.
“I’m thankful he’s alive,” Vega told WSB-TV. “That’s all that goes through my mind. I’m just grateful he’s here.”
Jenny Burke, a TSA spokeswoman, said pets have occasionally ended up on a similar trip through the baggage belt system — always inadvertently. But humans, not so much.
“For a person to actually go through this is very rare,” she says.
Burke added: “The baggage system as a whole is not intended for humans or living beings.”