Becoming Frank Abagnale

"I learned early that class is universally admired. Almost any fault, sin or crime is considered more leniently if there’s a touch of class involved."
- Frank Abagnale: Catch Me If You Can

I'm not advocating a life of crime, but who wouldn't want to be Frank Abagnale for a day? Minus the jail time, of course... I believe with enough confidence, you can get away with almost anything. It's the modus operandi of any con-man. And isn't there something romantic about a criminal who uses wit, instead of brute force, to get away with something? I think so. So here is my true story of a harmless con I pull, in the spirit of Frank Abagnale. It's a simple ruse for getting through first-class airport security, with a coach ticket.

JFK International Airport: economy-class security wait time: 45 minutes... First-class wait time: 5 minutes...

With my coach ticket in hand, I approached the first-class security checkpoint gatekeeper, with a big smile. Usually, it's a member of an airline, not a TSA agent. She's the one who will be looking over each ticket, letting first-class passengers walk in, and directing coach passengers to a separate line.

So I handed over my ticket. But before she could see I wasn't in first-class, I said "boy I'm hungry, do you know anything that looks good?" I know that's strange, but stay with me. "Sorry. You're in the wrong line", she replied. So I touched her on the arm, and said "Apologies, not your fault, I've been upgraded". She took a moment, smiled, and said "Oh, right, you're good to go..." So I walked on through first-class security, walking by of all my coach brethren.  

I've been through first-class security with a coach ticket many times. Because often, there's no gatekeeper around! And the TSA agent who actually scans the ticket and checks my passport, isn't concerned about first-class vs coach seating. They have bigger fish to fry. But this time, there was a gatekeeper, so here's a breakdown of what I did, and why I did it:

The Approach: Yes, sadly it helps that I'm a tall, white male. But I truly believe a well practiced smile goes a long way. It communicates confidence and friendliness. It's simple and easy. Also, dressing the part helps, too. 

A Confusion Tactic: I'll say "boy I'm hungry, do you know anything that looks good?", because it throws them off balance. The statement makes sense, but it doesn't match their expectations. It's called a pattern interrupt, which you can learn about in Tricks of the Mind, by Derren Brown. It also feeds the suggestion of "that looks good", meaning the ticket. In my experience, it works. But it could just be the nice mixture of confidence and tension. 

Bold and Brave: When she called my bluff, I told her "apologies, not your fault, I've been upgraded", touching her on the upper arm. The upgrade was a bluff, but according to some "research", a touch on the upper arm increases compliance. So the combination of the two, may do the trick.

I'm not saying this works every time, because I've been caught on occasion. But I look at it this way -- best case scenario, I'm through security 5x the normal speed, with a buzz of adrenaline too. Worst case, I'm asked to move to another line, where I should be anyway!

I'll admit, testing security like this feels risky. But there's nothing suspicious or even illegal about finding yourself in the wrong line. Or even being confused about an upgrade. Just DON'T get carried away and start altering your ticket. Keep this as a mental technique, like card counting in Black Jack. If it happens in your mind, it can't be proven. Unless you write a blog post about it, like some kind of dummy. 

So have fun with this, and best of luck.

Your Friend,

Matthew Cooper

P.S. I've since shown this to my older brother, who has reported a lot of success.