CHICAGO?STRESSED PASsengers at airports in the United States and around the world faced heightened security on Sunday on the holiday season?s busiest travel day, following a botched attempt to blow up a US airliner.
Dino Melchior, 50, was stuck in Chicago with his parents and two children after his flight was delayed by two hours due to heightened security in Toronto?and they missed their connecting flight to Hawaii.
?Apparently a new directive came out for people to be physically patted down and they weren?t prepared for it,? Melchior said, as his teenage son waited in line to retrieve their luggage. ?I?ve never seen lines like that.?
The US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said US-bound, international travelers should expect tougher screening measures, including pat-downs and bag searches. Passengers were advised to check into airports earlier.
Melchior described a chaotic scene as security officers without megaphones tried to organize the massive crowd at Toronto?s Pearson International Airport.
Each carry-on bag was emptied and searched. People were told to lift their shoeless feet for a quick pat after their full bodies were skimmed.
Screeners even lifted the long black hair of Melchior?s daughter to make sure she was hiding nothing.
Melchior said he was disappointed by the delay, but understood the need for extra security.
?It was a minor inconvenience,? he told Agence France-Presse. ?Would I have liked to be on the plane to Maui? Yes. Mostly, it just could have been better organized.?
The new measures follow the botched Christmas Day attack by terror suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, accused of trying to detonate explosives aboard a Northwest Airlines flight with 290 people on board as the Airbus jet was set to land in Detroit. (See related story in The World, Page A18)
Lines to get through security checkpoints at Chicago?s O?Hare International Airport?one of the busiest in the world?moved smoothly on Sunday, with the screening process appearing to be unchanged.
?Everything worked like a charm today,? said Don Kawamoto, a TSA supervisor in Terminal 1.
More work needed
?Everything was smooth. The passengers were happy. It was good planning by the TSA?we had enough people and it worked.?
Passenger Kamesh Nara, 25, said more work needed to be done to keep air travel safe following the latest attempted attack.
?How did he get it on the plane?? Nara asked. ?It?s a failure of government.?
Nara, an engineer living in South Carolina who was on his way to India see his family for the first time in two years, said he would not be deterred by the threat of terrorist attacks.
?Even though we?re nervous, we can?t stop. We have no other choice. We have to travel,? he said. ?Being from India, we know the problem. We have to fight against terrorism and we need to strengthen our security.?
Passenger Amy Timm, 31, also said she refused to let threats of terrorism affect her daily life.
?There?s nothing we can do about it,? she said as she waited to board a KLM flight to Tanzania.
Timm arrived early for the flight, and said she was surprised by how quiet things were at the airport.
?I?m kind of shocked. We were expecting heightened security and stuff,? she said.
According to a TSA statement, the agency has a ?layered approach? to security that ?allows us to surge resources as needed.?
?We have the ability to quickly implement additional screening measures including explosive detection canine teams, law enforcement officers, gate screening, behavior detection and other measures both seen and unseen,? the TSA said. ?Passengers should not expect to see the same thing at every airport.?
The TSA on Sunday issued an update on its website that said passengers would be subject to greater security, but its information was not as detailed as the memorandums sent by the agency to airlines this weekend.
The airlines said the new TSA measures required an additional round of searches, including body pat-downs at airport gates overseas.
International travelers were also told that they could not leave their seats for the last hour of a flight, during which time they also could not use a pillow or blanket.
Passengers were also limited to one piece of carry-on baggage, including a purse or briefcase, and that piece had to be stowed in an overhead compartment for the last hour of a flight.
Airlines were ordered to turn off in-flight entertainment systems with maps showing a plane?s location, and pilots and flight crews were told not to make comments about cities or landmarks below the flight path.
There also were unspecified measures at airports in the United States, where lines at screening machines grew long. At the Detroit airport, officers in bright blue vests marked ?Police? walked through the check-in lobby.
?Very, very safe?
Despite the stiff layers of extra security, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in various Sunday talk shows that the traveling public ?is very, very safe.?
?This was one individual literally of thousands that fly and thousands of flights every year,? Napolitano said. ?And he (Abdulmutallab) was stopped before any damage could be done. I think the important thing to recognize here is that once this incident occurred, everything happened that should have.?
Even so, the US Congress is preparing to hold hearings on what happened and whether rules need to be changed.
?It?s amazing to me that an individual like this who was sending out so many signals could end up getting on a plane going to the US,? said Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader in the Senate.
On Saturday, two Middle Eastern men thought to have been acting suspicious aboard a flight bound for Phoenix were detained and questioned by federal antiterrorism authorities before being released.
That incident?and Sunday?s incident in Detroit?led the Council on American-Islamic Relations to urge airline security personnel to avoid ethnic and religious profiling.
2nd frightening incident
Detroit?s airport was rattled on Sunday by a second frightening incident in three days. Pilots declared an emergency after another Nigerian spent an unusually long time in an airplane restroom, said a Department of Homeland Security spokesperson, Sara Kuban.
In a similar scene to the one Friday, the plane was taken to a remote corner of the airport, far from the terminals, where it was surrounded by emergency vehicles. All of the baggage were removed from the plane, lined up on the tarmac and searched by explosive-sniffing dogs.
The passenger, whose name was not made public, ?was removed from the flight and interviewed? by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
?Indications at this time are that the individual?s behavior is due to legitimate illness,? Kuban said, ?and no other suspicious behavior or materials have been found.?
The passenger was subsequently released. Reports from AFP, AP and New York Times News Service