The Incredible Story Of Marilyn Hartman – The Serial Stowaway

For almost 20 years, the so-called “serial stowaway” Marilyn Hartman has bewildered everyone by flying all over the world while never having bought a ticket. In a post-911 world, where security at airports is tighter than it has ever been, 69-year-old Hartman has baffled law enforcement in multiple cities.

American Airlines at O'Hare
Hartman was caught while trying to get to Chicago O’Hare. Photo: Getty Images

Her long stint of joyriding may now finally come to an end after an electronic ankle bracelet alerted the police that she was at Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD). Out on bail following a previous attempt to fly without a ticket in 2019, Hartman was awaiting trial at a shelter on Chicago’s West Side.

In a statement released by the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, CBS2 News says that investigators were alerted that she might have gone to the airport after her ankle bracelet had gone beyond the range of where she was allowed to go.

“Staff attempted to contact Hartman using the phone built into the device,” the statement said. “Hartman did not answer.”

Hartman was heading to the airport

While investigators were en route to O’Hare, the Sheriff’s office notified police that Hartman appeared to be heading toward the airport, and at 1:38 notified Chicago Police that she was in the vicinity of Terminal 1,” the statement said. “An alarm siren was activated on Hartman’s device, and she was taken into custody by Chicago Police.”

Hartman once took a British Airways flight to London that would have cost $3,428. Photo: Getty Images

Similar, in a way, to the 2002 movie “Catch Me If You Can,” Hartman claims to have taken around 30 or so flights while never paying for a ticket. Destinations uncovered by CBS investigators include trips to the following cities:

  • Copenhagen, Demark
  • Paris, France
  • Jacksonville Florida
  • Seattle, Washington
  • Phoenix, Arizona
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Atlanta, Georgia
  • Minneapolis, Minnesota
  • San Francisco, California
  • London, England

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Hartman tries to blend in

When talking with CBS reporter Brad Edwards about her journeys, Harman said:

“The first time I could get through, I flew to Copenhagen, and the second time I flew into Paris.”

When asked by Edwards how she managed to get on so many flights without a ticket or boarding pass, Hartman said:

“The thing I’ve got to tell you. I have never been able to board a plane by myself. I was always let through. I mean, I was able to go through the security line without a boarding pass.”

When asked how she was able to get through TSA screening without being checked, Hartman revealed her secret, saying:

“I got by them, this is the thing that is so crazy, by following someone they would be carrying like a blue bag. And the next thing I know, I get into the TSA line, and TSA lets me through, and they think I’m with the guy with the blue bag.”

Hartman is bipolar

When asked why she repeatedly tried to evade security and ticket agents to board flights, Hartman said she was bipolar and suffered from depression.  Also known as manic depression, bipolar disorder is a mental illness that causes severe shifts in mood. People who suffer from the illness have periods when they are overly happy and full of energy and other times when they feel extremely sad and hopeless.

TSA coronavirus covid
Hartman gets past the TSA by blending in. Photo: Getty Images

If you look at Hartman in the video, you can see that she looks like someone’s grandmother and used that to her advantage. Had it been a younger person, it may have been more difficult to pull off the trick.

What still baffles me is how flight attendants don’t realize that they have an extra passenger not listed as being on the flight.

If you know how Hartman was able to do this, please tell us how in the comments.