August 11, 2006

US airport security crawls

By Jeanne King

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Fears of suicide bombers slowed
airport security to a crawl on Friday and sowed confusion among
everyone from passengers toting electronic gadgets to airport
shops selling banned liquids.

British police foiled a plot to bomb up to 10 flights to
the United States, but emergency measures imposed because of it
disrupted the travel of hundreds of thousands of people.

Henry Davis, a hedge fund manager who got up at 4:30 a.m.
to fly to Boston, said there was a lot of confusion at New
York's LaGuardia Airport in the early hours.

"The Marine Air Terminal was a zoo," Davis said after
arriving in Boston. "People are struggling how to interpret
these new regulations. They're wondering if even the drops of
contact lens solution in their cases will apply."

In Britain, all hand luggage has been banned and passengers
are only allowed to carry a clear plastic bag containing
essential items like wallets, travel documents, prescription
medications, glasses without cases, keys and sanitary items.

U.S. passengers can carry hand luggage onboard, but liquids
and gels, including bottled drinks and makeup, have been banned
after British police said the foiled plan was to use chemical
bombs disguised as drinks.

But confusion arose when U.S. local media reported
electronic items, like laptop computers and cell phones, were
also prohibited.

One middle-aged man at John F. Kennedy airport in New York,
who declined to give his name, said he was asked to pack his
cell phone in checked baggage when he checked in for a British
Airways flight to London.

Yolanda Clark, spokeswoman for the Transportation Security
Administration, said laptops, cameras, phones and electronic
organizers are all allowed. Passengers at LaGuardia airport had
no problems carrying such items aboard.


Passengers in Britain not traveling to the United States
can buy duty-free liquids, like perfume and alcohol, in airport
departure lounges. But in the United States, passengers are
banned from carrying any liquids.

The Hudson Group, which runs more than 400 stores at U.S.
and Canadian airports, said it had pulled souvenir snow globes
from shelves because they contain liquid.

"We are still selling water and we don't know the
implication of this long term," Hudson spokeswoman Laura
Samuels said. "We have two kinds of passengers -- the ones that
get on the plane and the ones that get off the plane. So what
we lose in sales on one end, we can make up on the other end."

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, speaking to
reporters in Washington, said the government was mindful of the
new imposition on passengers and hoped to announce changes
soon. "I can tell you we are working -- and started working
yesterday -- on refinements to reduce additional
inconvenience," Chertoff said.

The Federal Aviation Administration said despite the extra
measures, the system was running smoothly with no major delays

At Atlanta's main airport, passengers said they heeded
security warnings and showed up very early for flights.

"A lot of times it doesn't really strike Americans as
reality because we are in our own little bubble over here. But
it is a reminder that those people are still out there," said
Byron Branch, 25, a medical student.

(Additional reporting by Matt Bigg in Atlanta, Svea Herbst
in Boston, Abha Bhattarai and Daniel Trotta in New York and
John Crawley in Washington)