A Nigerian man who allegedly ignited an incendiary device on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Friday has been charged with attempting to destroy the plane. The Department of Homeland Security warned that passengers may notice additional screening measures in the wake of the incident, but declined to offer specifics. Officials said some measures would be conducted out of sight of passengers.
The department said it was working with federal, state and local law enforcement — as well as international partners — on additional security.
"The American people should continue their planned holiday travel and, as always, be observant and aware of their surroundings and report any suspicious behavior or activity to law enforcement officials," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a statement.
Tighter screening was more evident at European airports after U.S. officials asked for stepped-up checks on all U.S.-bound flights. Northwestern Airlines Flight 253 had taken off from Amsterdam, and many passengers there and in other European cities faced body searches and new limits on hand baggage on Saturday.
Some airlines were telling passengers that they would be prohibited from leaving their seats beginning an hour before landing because of new security regulations. In a statement Saturday, Air Canada said new Transportation Security Administration rules limit on-board activities in U.S. airspace.
At Reagan National Airport in Washington, some passengers said they arrived earlier than usual to allow for extra screening. But lines were short and screenings appeared to be moving along quickly. Many said news of the Detroit incident had not changed their plans, though one woman said she did suggest that she and her husband cancel their flight from Chicago to Washington.
"I have four kids at home. I think I want to come back to them, you know?" laughed Maricela Rogers. "But he's like, 'No, come on, we'll be fine.' "
Rogers said as they were boarding their flight at O'Hare International Airport, her husband and others were randomly pulled over for a second screening, but she was not fully reassured. For one thing, she had carefully pulled out all her liquids and gels, including an unlabeled bottle of hand sanitizer she'd forgotten to check. She expected to have to throw it away, but says no one bothered to even look at it.
"We feel like we have a safety blanket because they are checking," Rogers said, "but they're not really checking. Then we complain because they over-check."
Saturday is a slow travel day in the holiday season. A greater test of any tighter measures may come Sunday and beyond, as travelers return home from holiday trips.
Some security officials say the Detroit incident highlights the need for tighter checks across the board, possibly even full body scans, which would cost many millions more than current procedures.
But passenger Dick Reinlie says he accepts the imperfections of the current system.
"There's a point of diminishing returns," he said. "I think we just keep doing what we're doing and pray for the best."