In the U.S., in the immediate aftermath of the arrests in Great Britain of suspected terrorists alleged to have plotted a plan to blow up multiple airlines bound from Heathrow Airport (LHR) to airports in the U.S. on Thursday, August 10, the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) website stated: “In response to a serious terrorist threat to international aviation security, the Secretary of Homeland Security has elevated the Homeland Security Advisory System Threat Condition to Severe, or Red, for all commercial flights from the United Kingdom to the United States, and to High, or Orange, for all other international flights and all domestic commercial aviation.”
In conjunction with the elevated threat code, all liquids were banned from carry-on luggage at U.S. commercial airports in a new mandate issued by the DHS. Michael Chertoff, director of DHS stated in a press release that this decision was made due to “the nature of the threat.” The announcement, which was posted on the TSA’s website Thursday morning stated, “this determination will be constantly evaluated and updated when circumstances warrant. These changes will take effect at 4:00 AM local time across the country. Travelers should also anticipate additional security measures within the airport and at screening checkpoints.”
The TSA’s banned liquids list says “liquids include all beverages, shampoo, suntan lotion, creams, tooth paste, hair gel, and other items of similar consistency.” No liquids or gels of any kind will be permitted in carry-on baggage but the items can be put into checked bags, which are screened by explosives detection machines (EDS) machines. At many airports those are still in the front of the ticketing lobbies. Busy commercial airports handled the increased workload created by the new contraband and higher threat level in various ways.
According to an Associated Press report by Nathinel Hernandez on Fri., Aug. 11, guards with rifles stood watch in several U.S. airports. The report also stated that governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney said on Thursday additional screening stations were being set up at the airline gates at Boston- Logan International (BOS), and security was increased on perimeter roadways. National Guard troops were deployed but the actual number had not yet been determined, but “it will certainly be in the hundreds,” he Romney was quoted as saying.
The article also stated that California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said bomb-sniffing dogs were being sent with the California National Guard and highway patrol to help with airport security.
There were many more police assigned indefinitely to the three airports said DiFulco, and officials spent much of Thursday coordinating with, and communicating closely with a number of law enforcement entities, the TSA, customs the Joint Terrorist Attack force. “We take all threats seriously,” he said.
There were cancellations, delays and longer lines at the three airports run by Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) on Thursday morning, according to Pasquale DiFulco, a spokesman for PANYNJ. “Through the miracle of instant communication we have these days, emails were flying pre-dawn and everyone was up and running before the sun was up.” PANYNJ he said, has been on a high state of alert and has invested more than $2.3 billion on security initiatives since the September 2001 airborne terrorist attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center towers and killed thousands.
As at other large airport, customers at PANYNJ airports were advised to allow extra time for processing and boarding and urged them to check with their flight status. Inside the airport personnel distributed printed materials provided by the TSA, and outside, PANYNJ’s website and airport radio broadcasts were updated with related information.
At some airports, even later in the morning airport officials warned the public to prepare for unexpected delays. Charles J. Isdell, the City’s Director of Aviation reflected what many airport directors told ARN when he said, “Philadelphia International Airport [PHL] is working with the Transportation Security Administration and the airlines to ensure the safety of our passengers. We suggest that travelers come to the Airport prepared to deal with the changes in security procedures and allow more time for checking in and security screening.”
At possibly the nation’s busiest airport, Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International (ATL), there were long lines early on Thursday morning but congestion had dissipated by late morning as a result of an information campaign, according to Felicia Browder, media relations manager. The public was informed of increased alert levels and of the prohibition on liquids in baggage on the airport’s website, through the public address system, and the media, she said.
There were no stranded passengers at ATL, Browder said ATL deployed airport personnel in operations and customer service to handle the huge challenge resulting from the ban. Passengers already in checkpoint lines had to drop their liquid containers into several trashcans or boxes that were being carried by roving customer service representatives. The reps also fielded a lot of questions and advised passengers of the option to check their carry-on luggage if they still had time, or to put banned bottles in the bags they planned to check.
Browder said there was no outside police force or other security presence other than the airport’s usual security force. “We have security and police cooperating with the TSA. It’s police we always have,” she said. Large airports in the Midwest were also impacted by international flight cuts and delays, but bounced back quickly as a result of speedy outreach to the public. Detroit Barbara Hogan, spokeswoman for the Wayne County Airport Authority said, “we have created a one-page handout flyer notifying folks that liquids are not allowed onboard and they should pack them in their luggage. We also have signs at checkpoints [at Detroit Metropolitan (DTW)]. Everyone seems to be getting a great deal of information from the media. Concessionaires have the same message at their cash registers.”
By late morning wait times at checkpoints had returned to normal at DTW said Hogan, but earlier “they were extremely long.
“The Smith Terminal became business as usual by 9:00 AM. At 11:00 AM the longest lines were a 15-minute wait in the McNamara Terminal. That isn’t saying it won’t change. It could get busier and the lines could get long again.”
The authority did enhance the police presence on airport grounds very early on Thursday as a result of the London scare. Officers were everywhere, said Hogan, “strolling throughout the ticketing lobby.” There was also a noticeable diligence on the part of TSA screeners, she added.
Rob Yingling, spokesman for Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) said the TSA was handling the collections of liquids at MWAA airports.
Amy Kudwa, spokeswoman with the TSA described the process. “Of course we’ve added aviation security inspectors, canine teams and have increased staffing. We anticipate the continued effects on wait times with security screening. The banned liquids are not hazardous materials such as lighters, we’re just filling bins and they’ll be disposed of as regular garbage. We have lots of large bins and garbage cans at checkpoints and also at gates because vendors there sell water and other liquids.”
Yingling said MWAA did increase security at Washington Reagan National (DCA), which is the commercial airport in closest proximity to the White House. “We always operate at a vigilant level so we’re increasing our security vigilance here at the airport.” He said he didn’t know how long that would last.
Asked if there had been any need to offer passengers any extra conveniences such as cots, water or snacks during early morning delays, Yingling said, “no we don’t have any reports of stranded passengers. We’ve been working with TSA and have been in with the airlines all morning long to ensure swift passenger throughput. We’re back to normal wait times.”