Transportation authorities began imposing tighter security measures at airports on Saturday and ordered new restrictions governing the activities of passengers during flights as investigators conducted searches to learn more about the Nigerian engineering student accused of igniting an incendiary device aboard a Northwest Airlines jet as it landed in Detroit on Friday.
The White House declared the incident “an attempted act of terrorism.” The plane, an Airbus A330 wide-body jet with 278 passengers coming from Amsterdam, landed safely around noon on Christmas Day after passengers helped subdue the suspect.
Less than 24 hours after the terrorist attempt, travelers at airports around the world, from Frankfurt to Rochester, N.Y., began experiencing heightened screening in security lines. Even as airlines began limiting United States-bound passengers to just one carry-on bag, travelers will feel the most significant changes during the actual flights.
According to a statement posted Saturday morning on Air Canada’s Web site, the Transportation Security Administration will severely limit the behavior of both passengers and crew during flights in United States airspace — restricting movement in the final hour of flight. Late Saturday morning, the T.S.A. had not yet included this new information on its own Web site.
“Among other things,” the statement in Air Canada’s Web site read, “during the final hour of flight customers must remain seated, will not be allowed to access carry-on baggage, or have personal belongings or other items on their laps.”
The suspect, identified as Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, tried to light his explosives while the plane was descending into Detroit on Friday.
On its Web site, American Airlines said the T.S.A. had ordered new measures for flights departing from foreign locations to the United States, including mandatory screening of all passengers at airport gates during the boarding process. All carry-on items also would be screened at boarding, the airline said. It urged passengers to leave extra time for screening and boarding.
Earlier in the day, British Airways had announced on its Web site that passengers flying from London to the United States would be allowed to carry only one item onto a plane. Air Canada also announced that restriction for its United States-bound passengers.
At airport terminals Saturday, travelers recounted the immediate differences they experienced. Though passengers arriving from Frankfurt passed speedily through United States customs at John F. Kennedy airport, they said that in Germany, the security was intensified.
“I really was surprised,” Eva Clesle said about the level of scrutiny in Frankfurt, adding that officials inspected backpacks by opening “every single zip.”
In Rochester, N.Y., one passenger waiting in a security line said she saw other passengers removed for additional screening.
A Department of Homeland Security official said on Friday that the T.S.A. used layers of security measures at the nation’s airports and that not all of these measures would be visible: including bomb-sniffing dog teams, and plainclothes behavioral-detection specialists inside airport terminals. The official said there were no immediate plans to elevate the nation’s threat level, which has been at orange since 2006.
At Kennedy Airport Saturday, security officers said little about the increased number of personnel or dogs, except to say that those numbers appeared not to be out of the ordinary.
“It’s standard operation until we hear something from Washington,” said one T.S.A. officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss details of searches.
Another officer, working for the private International Airline Terminal company, spoke from his post in Terminal 4. “We’re very, very alert today, we’ve already been given a briefing at 6:30 a.m. to be extra alert, extra vigilant this morning,” he said, also declining to give his name. “Anything unusual we were to report to our bosses immediately.”
At that point the security officer noticed a red bag on a garbage can and called in his concern.
On Saturday, U.S. officials were still investigating the explosives the suspect had carried onto the aircraft. A senior administration official said that the government did not yet know whether the man had had the capacity to take down the plane.
The device, described by officials as a mixture of powder and liquid, failed to fully detonate.
The official said there were no immediate plans to elevate the nation’s threat level, which has been at orange since 2006.
Friday’s incident brought to mind Richard C. Reid, the so-called shoe bomber, who attempted to blow up an American Airlines flight between Paris and Miami in December 2001 by igniting explosives in his shoes. Mr. Reid was subdued by a flight attendant and passengers and the plane landed safely in Boston. Mr. Reid later pleaded guilty to three terrorism-related counts and was sentenced to life in prison. Since then, airline passengers have had to remove their shoes before passing through security checkpoints in American airports.
In August 2006, British authorities uncovered a plot to blow up planes bound for the United States using explosives that would be mixed with liquids on board. Eight men were arrested, and three were convicted in the case this fall. British authorities estimated that as many as 2,000 airplane passengers might have been killed had the plotters been successful. The plot led security officials to limit the amount of liquids and gels that passengers can bring on board in their carry-on baggage.
STAY STILL CITIZEN. HANDS IN YOUR LAPS. NO SUDDEN MOVEMENTS.
I would also like to point out that the person who stopped the eval fire-cracker-bomber clearly broke this policy as they rose from their seat. Obviously, this security theater does nothing to increase security, and only makes flying more difficult and stressful for the travelers. They wernt even able to stop this guy getting through all their checkpoints.