Airport Officials Beef Up Security In Wake Of Plot

Aviation security officials have stepped up passenger screening and searches at airports around the country in the aftermath of an alleged attack on a Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit from Amsterdam. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab has been charged in the case.

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GUY RAZ, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

Airports from LAX to JFK are on heightened alert today. Inside the terminals, more dogs, more uniformed officers, and more random checks. It's all in response to the attempted terror attack on a Northwest Airlines flight that landed in Detroit yesterday.

Today, investigators in London, Amsterdam and Washington are trying to figure out more about the 23-year-old suspect, Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. The Justice Department has now charged him with trying to blow up the Amsterdam-to-Detroit flight.

We begin the hour with a look at airport security here at home and in a moment, al-Qaida's resurgence on the Arabian Peninsula.

Our coverage starts with NPR's Jennifer Ludden, who spoke with travelers at Reagan National Airport just outside ashington, D.C.

JENNIFER LUDDEN: Wendy and Jim Myworm(ph) arrived extra early for their morning trip to Mexico. It turned out they didn't need to - security lines here were short and moving smoothly. Jim said he has a lot of confidence in U.S. security, and even kept his sense of humor about the indignities of air travel in the age of terror alerts.

Mr. JIM MYWORM: I remember having to take off my shoes after the shoe bomber. Now, it's a pants bomber. So I'm worried about that. But we're confident about the plane.

LUDDEN: Marie Seller Rogers(ph) was more shaken. She even suggested she and her husband ditch their getaway from Chicago to Washington.

Ms. MARIE SELLER ROGERS: I have four kids at home. Like, I think I want to come back to them, you know? Maybe I should just stay home, you know?

LUDDEN: But you didn't.

Ms. ROGERS: No. He's like, no, come on. We'll be fine.

LUDDEN: In fact, Rogers says her husband felt vindicated as they were boarding their flight at Chicago's O'Hare Airport. Officials began pulling over people, including him, for a second round of random searches. The Transportation Security Administration would not confirm any such specific measures, but a statement by Air Canada said new TSA rules subject all passengers and their luggage to full searches just before boarding.

Still, Rogers was not reassured. She had discovered an unlabeled bottle of hand sanitizer she'd forgotten to check. She expected to have to throw it out, but says no one even bothered to look at it.

Ms. ROGERS: We feel we have a safety blanket because they are checking, but they're not really checking. But then we complain because they overcheck, you know?

LUDDEN: The terror suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was on a flight to Detroit from Amsterdam, and was tackled by fellow passengers and crew after his pants leg ignited. Saturday, tightened security was more apparent on U.S.-bound international flights. Passengers in Europe faced body searches and new limits on hand baggage.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said overseas measures were designed to be unpredictable.

Air Canada said U.S. officials had also ordered that passengers remained seated during the last hour of a U.S.-bound flight, with no access to carry-ons and nothing on their laps. Again, the TSA would not confirm that.

Traveler Dick Wrangley(ph) had no such restrictions on his flight from Florida this morning. He says he accepts that the current system is imperfect.

Mr. DICK WRANGLEY: You know, there's a point where, you know, diminishing returns. So, I think, you know, just keep doing what we're doing and pray for the best.

LUDDEN: One woman says she didn't learn of the attack until she boarded her plane from Dallas and picked up her husband's newspaper. And then, she simply decided not to read about it.

Jennifer Ludden, NPR News, Washington.

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