Tough security expected when flights resume

`Radical departure' for passengers

no date set for return to skies

Terrorism Strikes America

Transportation

September 13, 2001|By Marcia Myers and Frank D. Roylance | Marcia Myers and Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

With few exceptions, jetliners nationwide remained grounded yesterday in the wake of Tuesday's terrorist-driven airline crashes, and aviation officials could not say when flights would resume.

Announcing new safety measures, U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said he had hoped to have airports back in operation by noon yesterday, but intelligence reports indicated a continued terrorist threat.

"Safety is always of paramount importance, and in these extraordinary times we intend to be vigilant," Mineta said. He was unable to set a date for the resumption of air travel.

FOR THE RECORD - In Thursday's Sun, an article about last week's terrorist attacks incorrectly attributed a statement to William Castleberry, associate executive director of Baltimore-Washington International Airport. What appeared as a direct quote - changes at BWI were "a radical departure from the way the public has flown for decades. Implementing them could take days" - was actually the consensus of several airport employees.
The Sun regrets the error.

BWI officials said part of the delay is to allow time for the new security rules to be put in place. William Castleberry, the airport's associate executive director, described the changes as "a radical departure from the way the public has flown for decades. Implementing them could take days."

As airports across the country worked yesterday to tighten security, transportation and safety experts depicted a future of safer, but decidedly less friendly skies for American travelers. The new safety measures promise to bring the U.S. closer to standards in place in Europe and the Middle East.

The new measures will greatly lengthen the time involved in catching flights and increase the inconveniences for many passengers.

"For people who think they are very important when they go to the airport, there should be a federal law that they have a large quantity of Prozac on them. You will be inconvenienced, excessively, and you will just have to get used to it," said Darryl Jenkins, director of the Aviation Institute at George Washington University.

In some cases, the new rules may present only mild inconvenience: only ticketed passengers will be allowed to pass the security checkpoints to gates; traffic near airports will be much more closely monitored; and curbside baggage checking is history.

At BWI, cars picking up or dropping off riders won't be allowed to wait outside the airport doors. Travelers will be urged to arrive two hours before departure instead of one.

Greater scrutiny

Other steps will be more intrusive. More uniformed police will patrol airports, passengers will be checked with hand-held metal detectors, and flight crews and service workers will be searched. Sky marshals, their numbers reduced, will be back on many more flights.

Passengers may have to have their identification scrutinized at check-in, at the gate and aboard the aircraft. They also should expect to be questioned more aggressively and by professionals trained to look for qualities that fit terrorist profiles, experts say.

"Our current system relies heavily on the intelligence side of a hijacking plot - stop the hijacker before he gets to the airport," said Charlie LeBlanc, managing director of Air Security International, a Houston travel consultant. On Tuesday, terrorists became too smart and sophisticated for that to work anymore.

Europeans rely more on "perimeter" security - a heavier presence at the check-in counter, he said.

Trained security personnel - not busy, distracted ticketing agents - question and scrutinize passengers closely, asking questions that demand more than a yes-or-no response, looking for inconsistencies in their stories or nervous behavior. "If there are suspicious signs they can't resolve, they further check the bags by hand, not X-ray, and scrutinize you even more," LeBlanc said.

Said Paul Hedlund, a Washington lawyer who handles commercial aviation accidents: "We can expect that people may face intensive questioning like they do in France and Germany - you get asked a lot of questions, you may have pat-down searches, you may have full body searches.

"At least for the near future, we have to assume that terrorism is here," he added. "This is a malady that most of the rest of the world deals with every day, and we have to start dealing with it, too."

Gulf war changes

U.S. air travelers last saw airport security tightened when the Persian Gulf war began in January 1991. The FAA suspended curbside check-ins and barred all but ticketed passengers from moving beyond security checkpoints.

After that war's cease-fire in March 1991, airports were permitted to lift those precautions. News reports at the time said airports complained the measures were costing $3.3 million a week in increased manpower and another $3 million a week in lost revenues at concessions situated beyond the security gates.

Terrorism experts criticized the relaxation of those precautions. Martin R. Pollner, a former Treasury Department official who helped establish the government's anti-hijacking Sky Marshal program in 1973, told Newsday, the Long Island newspaper, at that time, "The silence of tragedy is the most eloquent spokesman for improved security."

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