Passengers React To Increased Airport Screening

People flying into U.S. airports are dealing with extra scrutiny in the wake of the attempted attack on a plane bound for Detroit on Christmas Day. Passengers in New York's JFK Airport, Los Angeles International Airport and Detroit react to the new security measures.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Now we're going to hear from air travelers, especially people arriving in the U.S. from abroad, about the security measures they're experiencing. In a moment, to the airports in Detroit and Los Angeles. But first, NPR's Robert Smith has the scene today from New York's Kennedy International Airport.

ROBERT SMITH: The flight from Dubai to JFK took 14 hours. So, you can understand that the passengers getting out of terminal four did not look their best. And to make matters worse, the women didn't even have the option of cosmetic enhancement.

Ms. SARAH LINDENBERG(ph): They actually took my makeup. It's powder, Bare Minerals makeup.

SMITH: Sarah Lindenberg says it came as a complete surprise as she was boarding the plane in Dubai. The security agents told her that along with liquids and gels, powder isn't allowed.

Ms. LINDENBERG: I have taken my makeup all over the world, and they haven't taken it from me - except they took it this time. So...

SMITH: Welcome to the new rules of travel. Except the problem is, no one knows quite what the rules are anymore. Women coming from Johannesburg, South Africa, got to keep their makeup. But during a stopover in Dakar, Senegal, they had to remove the luggage from the overhead compartment and keep it on their laps for rechecking.

Vikas Rafi(ph), a frequent flier from India, says his flight from Mumbai was exactly the same as usual, until he hit customs. Suddenly, everyone was getting the third degree.

Mr. VIKAS RAFI: I mean, they used to always ask you once and, you know. But now, they are asking everybody. What you do? How long were you gone? How long are you going to be here now?

SMITH: If the goal is to keep people on their toes, then it's working. In fact, the head of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, even said last week that the new measures are designed to be unpredictable. But some aren't so surprising. People aboard Emirates Flight 203 from Dubai say they were patted down at the departure gate. Sarah Lindenberg was taken behind a curtain and told to take off all her extra clothing.

Ms. LINDENBERG: So basically, you're standing there in your jeans and T-shirt. And they pat you down. And, I mean, it's full-service pat-down.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LINDENBERG: If you know what I mean.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SMITH: Let's just say if there had been any explosive underwear, they might have�

Ms. LINDENBERG: Yes, they would have found it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LINDENBERG: Or if they're had been in my bra, it would have been found.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SMITH: And just in case something got through, the flight went into a sort of lockdown an hour before landing in New York. No getting out of the seat, nothing allowed on the lap.

Ms. LINDENBERG: I was irritated because I didn't want to them to take my blanket and headphones.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LINDENBERG: But I was just like, what I'm going to do for the next hour? But no, I mean, it wasn't that bad.

SMITH: After all, it could have been worse. The passengers getting off the El Al flight from Tel Aviv laughed when I asked about extra security. Israeli flights have been on this kind of alert for decades.

Still, Jeffrey Thomas(ph), an American student, was surprised when he was taken aside by Israeli security and grilled about the hardback book he was carrying.

Mr. JEFFREY THOMAS: They asked me, where did you get this book? Did someone give it to you? Who gave it to you? What's his name? They really wanted to know the origin of that book, and they inspected the book pretty closely.

SMITH: Can a requirement for only paperback books in airports be far behind?

Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.

INA JAFFE: I'm Ina Jaffe in Los Angeles. At L.A. International Airport, it seems no one travels light when coming from overseas. Catherine Ansari(ph) was typical of the crowd outside of the international terminal as she wrangled a cart stacked high with luggage while keeping track of three little girls. Her United Airlines flight had just arrived from London. She said the security was double what it usually is.

Ms. CATHERINE ANSARI: Well, they had the initial security coming out of the London airport, and then once you got towards the gate, they had another security session there that - they patted you down.

JAFFE: Even her daughters, ages 1 through 6, were frisked.

Ms. ANSARI: But I explained to them, so they were OK with it.

JAFFE: What did you tell them?

Ms. ANSARI: That they need to do that for our security. That once, you know, we are flying in a - you know, on an airplane, and that we want to make sure that we are safe and secure, and that we make it home safely. So, they understood.

JAFFE: It wasn't just that Catherine Ansari didn't mind the added scrutiny; she welcomed it.

Ms. ANSARI: Because you know that at least they're trying to make it as safe as possible.

JAFFE: Nearly all of the passengers we spoke with, who arrived from Europe, South Asia, the Middle East and Latin America, reported being patted down and having their hand-luggage searched - every piece.

Ms. RESHA PATEL(ph): They've gotten a lot like, tougher, you know.

JAFFE: That's Resha Patel, who is 12 years old. Along with her father and brothers, she just arrived from India by way of Dubai on Emirates Airlines. In Dubai, she says, she was taken into a private room and frisked by a female security officer. She is not quite sure how she feels about that.

Ms. PATEL: It was like, weird because they didn't do that before. But they didn't like, thoroughly check. All she did was like, patted down my jacket because it's big.

JAFFE: Los Angeles Airport Police think it would be safer if everyone were subjected to a virtual frisk. Their union is urging the federal government to require a full-body scan for all passengers. L.A. is one of 19 U.S. airports that has the controversial scanning machines, but they are only used for secondary screening. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa today announced other new security measures being put in place at L.A. airports. Those include a new, automated baggage-handling system that will track each piece by bar code, screen for explosives, and reduce the opportunities for tampering.

Ina Jaffe, NPR News.

JENNIFER GUERRA: I'm Jennifer Guerra at Detroit Metro Airport where a botched bombing attack caught the world's attention last month. Since then, passengers like Anthony Salem(ph), flying to the U.S. from overseas, say they definitely noticed an uptick in security.

Mr. ANTHONY SALEM: I thought it was really strict, especially in Paris.

GUERRA: The 17-year-old flew from Barcelona to Paris to Detroit with his family. He says they were searched three times before they could board the plane to the U.S.

Mr. SALEM: They went in all of our bags - and all the little, tiny pieces of our bags, and then they did us - you know, the body search. It made me feel comfortable because they were really searching the stuff. But in another sense, it also made me feel like a little bit intruded, just slightly.

GUERRA: Salem admits he was pretty annoyed when a security official rifled through his carry-on backpack and made him toss out some body lotion he had in there. Hand-checked carry-on luggage is just one of several security upgrades airports have implemented since a Nigerian man attempted to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight as it approached Detroit Metro Airport. Britney Solenburger(ph) flew from Amsterdam to Detroit yesterday. She says not only was her carry-on bag checked by hand, so was she. And that was a first.

Ms. BRITNEY SOLENBURGER: Kind of like you see on TV: Spread your legs, put your arms out, and they give you a pat-down, up and down. They pat your butt, everything. So yeah, I would say they cover all corners - and curves, for that matter.

GUERRA: What do you think about having this kind of security?

Ms. SOLENBURGER: Honestly, even though it's a hassle, I would rather be safe than sorry.

GUERRA: Another passenger, Stephanos Garacousen(ph), makes the trip regularly from Amsterdam to Detroit for school. He says while he wasn't bothered by the extra pat-downs and carry-on checks, he doesn't necessarily feel safer because of them.

Mr. STEPHANOS GARACOUSEN: Not really, because that guy who made that�

Unidentified Man: Bomb. Dynamite.

Mr. GARACOUSEN: �bomb he had this - that stuff in his underwear. This time, you can do the same.

GUERRA: And while Garacousen and a couple of his classmates laugh at the thought of getting their underwear checked, that possibility isn't too far away. Like LAX, Detroit Metro also has a full-body scanner. And a Dutch official just announced that beginning in three weeks, the Amsterdam Airport will use such scanners for people traveling to the U.S.

For NPR News, I'm Jennifer Guerra.

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