Foiled terror plot makes for tough day for U.S. travelers; passengers must throw out liquids
BOSTON – Airline passengers around the country stood in line for hours and airport trash bins bulged with everything from mouthwash and shaving cream to maple syrup and fine wine Thursday in a security crackdown prompted by the discovery of a terror plot in Britain.U.S. authorities banned the carrying of liquids onto flights after the arrest of 24 people in an alleged plot to blow up U.S.-bound planes using explosives disguised as drinks and other common products.The restrictions forced people to unpack their carry-on bags on the floor in the middle of terminals to remove the prohibited items. Some travelers tried to squeeze makeup, sunscreen and other toiletries into their checked baggage, where liquids were permissible.But people without checked bags or those who had already given their luggage to their airline had to throw out the banned items.”It’s very frustrating. I’m no terrorist,” said Alison Phillips as she struggled to repack her suitcase in Tampa, Fla., after removing all liquids for her return flight to Jamaica.Other security measures were also ramped up at airports across the nation. Gov. Mitt Romney sent the National Guard to help patrol Boston’s Logan Airport for the first time since the Sept. 11 attacks, when terrorists hijacked two planes from there and flew them into the World Trade Center. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger also activated the National Guard in California, and Gov. George Pataki in New York considered doing the same.”That’s part of the price you pay for traveling during a time like this,” said Julius Ibraheem, 26, a college counselor from Chicago, as he stared at the long lines leading toward security checkpoints at O’Hare Airport.At Newark Airport in New Jersey, one security checkpoint line stretched the entire length of the terminal – roughly six football fields. At Baltimore/Washington Airport, security workers opened every carry-on bag that passed through one terminal, and all morning flights were delayed.”It’s better alive than dead,” said Bob Chambers, whose flight from Baltimore to Detroit for a business meeting was delayed more than an hour. “It’s inconvenient, but we’ll make it.”Maya Bodinson, 12, flew with her father on the first plane from Heathrow to Kennedy Airport in New York after British authorities reported the plot. She said the scariest moment came when her flight was midway across the Atlantic Ocean.”That was when the bombs were supposed to go off, if there were any,” she said.Passengers arriving from London at Washington’s Dulles International Airport were largely unconcerned about their security, even though their flight may have been a prime target.”Everyone was really calm,” said passenger Jim McConnell of Charlottesville, Va. “I think people have grown to accept the state of the world.”The ban on liquids and gels covered such things as shampoo, toothpaste, contact lens solution, perfume and water bottles. The only exceptions were for baby formula and medications, which had to be presented for inspection at security checkpoints. Liquids were allowed in checked bags because those suitcases are screened for explosives and are stowed in the cargo hold beyond passengers’ reach.Travelers at the Burlington International Airport in Vermont were forced to discard souvenir jugs of maple syrup. In New Orleans, half-used bottles of hot sauce lay in garbage bins.”We are seeing a lot of interesting items being discarded,” said Michael McCarron, a spokesman at the San Francisco airport. “Chanel No. 5, gallons and gallons of water, and some very fine Napa Valley wine.”U.S. authorities raised the threat level to “red” for flights from Britain, the first time the highest threat of terrorist attack had been invoked since the system was created. All other flights were under an “orange” alert – one step below red.At Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, airport employees greeted passengers at security checkpoints with trash bags. Dan Wykoff at Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City saw security officers stop a man from carrying a container of applesauce past a checkpoint.”You’ve got to watch that applesauce; it will get you every time,” joked Wykoff, who was seeing off his brother on a flight.Ray Watson, 40, of Denver, who co-owns a trucking company, wryly predicted a boon for makers of toiletries as he waited to pick up his luggage at the Los Angeles airport.”I can’t imagine all the millions of dollars that the Colgate-Palmolives are going to reap from this,” he said. “The Dumpsters in Phoenix were filled with shampoo and toothpaste.”Some people solved their carry-on baggage problem by simply giving items away. In Manchester, N.H., airport officials offered padded envelopes and paid the postage to mail items home.Laura Yeager left four bottles of Gucci and Cartier perfume for the hotel maid before heading to the Atlanta airport for her flight back to Philadelphia. She still had to give up her lip gloss at the security checkpoint.She just shrugged and tossed it. “It’s better to feel safe. We thought it was going to be a lot worse,” she said.Though some tempers flared, many passengers were resigned to the delays and wasted toiletries.”It’s a slight inconvenience,” said Tom Sheehan of Toledo, Ohio, who was headed for Los Angeles from Detroit Metropolitan Airport. “It’s a pain, but I still think getting across the country in six hours is pretty amazing. I don’t mind waiting an extra 15 minutes to check my luggage.”—Associated Press writers Jacob Adelman in Los Angeles, John Curran in South Burlington, Vt., Jerry Harkavy in Portland, Maine, Mitch Stacy in Tampa, Fla., Ron Jenkins in Oklahoma City, Leslie Miller in Washington D.C., Amanda Lee Myers in Phoenix, Jim Irwin in Detroit, Matthew Barakat in Chantilly, Va., David B. Caruso in New York, and Wayne Parry in Newark, N.J., contributed to this report.
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