U.S. Airports

Early Confusion Abates; Random Checks May Persist

By Del Quentin Wilber and Sara Kehaulani Goo
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, August 11, 2006

Mass confusion at the nation's airports yesterday morning diminished by afternoon as passengers adjusted to security measures enacted in response to what police in Britain said was a terrorist plot targeting transatlantic flights.

Airlines reacted by canceling some flights and delaying others for less than an hour. By evening, most carriers were battling weather delays caused by thunderstorms over major cities, not security-related tie-ups.

Passengers could face heightened screening today, however. Federal security authorities last night said they were going to conduct extra screening at gates for flights bound for Britain. They also plan to conduct random inspections at gates for other flights, officials said. Local police, National Guard members or airport officials could be used to conduct some of the screenings.

Authorities said they had no choice but to increase security in response to the announcement by British police early yesterday that they had cracked a scheme to use liquid explosives to blow up airliners over the Atlantic Ocean.

Transportation Security Administration officials immediately boosted the terror alert for commercial air travel and banned liquids and gels from passengers' carry-on luggage. The prohibited items included shampoo, bottles of water, hair spray and sunblock.

"This was clearly an active plot, clearly going to be a massive devastating attack, and we just are not going to take any chances on that," TSA Administrator Kip Hawley said in an interview.

Under the heightened alert, TSA officers also began randomly screening passengers at gates, increased patrols by bomb-sniffing police dogs and took other undisclosed steps to secure airports, they said.

TSA officials said they did not know how long they would restrict the banned items.

"We are going to take our time to study it and defeat it," Hawley said.

The confusion and security lines caused air traffic disruptions in the morning and delays at most airports, airlines reported.

Most travel experts said they considered the traffic disruptions to be a blip for the industry, likening the flight delays to those caused by a bad thunderstorm over a hub airport.

Airline stocks fell early but recovered by the close of trading.

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