Passengers at Los Angeles International Airport and Boston's Logan Airport face long lines, bomb-sniffing dogs, and bans on bringing coffee and toothpaste on board — not to mention a National Guard presence. Most travelers are taking the new developments in stride.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
The tight new security measures at the nation's airports produced long lines of passengers and lots of delayed flights today. And in three states - California, Massachusetts and New York - governors called out the National Guard to help with airport security.
We have two reports on how air travelers coped, beginning with NPR's Ina Jaffe at LAX in Los Angeles
(Soundbite of airport)
INA JAFFE reporting:
This morning began with a two hour standstill at the Delta terminal. When the security line finally began moving again, passengers were made aware that the rules of air travel had suddenly changed.
Unidentified Man: If you have any kind of liquid, any kind of gel, toothpaste, face cream, anything like that, put it in these tubs.
JAFFE: Passenger Fern Shapiro(ph) was trying to be patient.
Ms. FERN SHAPIRO (Airline Passenger, LAX Airport): We kind of came into this thing that we were going to give it about a two to three hour trial. We're about 30 to 45 minutes away from our breaking point.
JAFFE: But as the day wore on, most passengers seem resigned to waiting and even manage to achieve some sort of optimism. LA resident Joe Shabuoy(ph) was traveling to Germany with his wife and two children.
Mr. JOE SHABUOY (Airline Passenger, LAX Airport): We just have to be more determined to go, because you cannot let a little amount of people make decisions for the whole world. So good people always win.
JAFFE: You could see the increased police presence everywhere, from checkpoints for cars entering the airport to officers with assault weapons and bomb sniffing dogs. In Sacramento, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said he was deploying 300 National Guard to the state's major airports.
Governor ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (California): I can assure the people of California that we are doing everything to keep them safe and to return our airports to normal operations as quickly as possible.
JAFFE: The travelers with the longest waits and the strictest rules were lined up at the British Airways counter. Jesse Perez got to the airport plenty early. And then -
Mr. JESSE PEREZ (Airline passenger, LAX Airport): I was supposed to leave at 5:50. I'm now leaving at 9:05.
JAFFE: Still, he felt it was a safe day to fly. The security situation didn't seem to worry Scotland bound Una Dulain(ph), either. She did have a serious concern, however. How to survive the flight without being able to bring a book.
Ms. UNA DULAIN (Airline passenger, LAX Airport): I know that we've got to be tight on the things that we do. But I think a book, you can't screen a book.
JAFFE: Facing an 11 hour flight with nothing to read, Una Dulain's greatest fear, dying of boredom.
Ina Jaffe, NPR News, Los Angeles International Airport.
CHRIS ARNOLD reporting:
This is Chris Arnold in Boston, where Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney earlier in the day was the first governor to call out the National Guard. Logan was the airport that two of the planes in the 9/11 attacks took off from. Romney said that influenced his decision.
Governor MITT ROMNEY (Massachusetts): Logan has a specific history with regards to the initiation of terrorist activity, and therefore we have a heightened degree of concern here, so there had to be additional personnel.
ARNOLD: At Logan, there was some questioning by airport staff about whether it was really necessary to call out the guard, but the official word from the airport was that the move will help.
(Soundbite of airport)
ARNOLD: And certainly this morning it looked like the airport could use all the help it could get. You needed an odometer to know how long the lines were.
Ms. TANYA O'COYNE(ph) (Airline Passenger, Logan Airport): We came in here and we had to go back about three-tenths of a mile, literally, so our day, we're not even to our terminal yet.
ARNOLD: That's Tanya O'Coyne.
Ms. TANYA O'COYNE: And I'm from Maynard, Massachusetts.
ARNOLD: O'Coyne, her 10-year-old daughter and some other family members are leaving town for a short summer vacation, and like many people at the airport, they don't seem particularly worried about terrorist attacks. Tanya says with all the added security today, she thinks it's probably just about the safest day to fly.
Ms. TANYA O'COYNE: I'm not scared. I'm not frightened. If I was, I wouldn't be taking my daughter, but I feel pretty good about it.
Ms. AUDREY O'COYNE: I was nervous, and she kept telling me, it's okay, there's nothing that's going to happen, so.
Ms. TANYA O'COYNE: They're taking the right precautions. That's what they're doing. You know? Whatever.
Ms. AUDREY O'COYNE: It's their job, and it's nice to know that they're doing it.
ARNOLD: Some passengers were more nervous. One man who was flying back to his family in Japan said he was a bit scared about flying. His wife was also worried and called him this morning, eager to see him back home and safe.
Chris Arnold, NPR News, Boston.
BLOCK: You can find advice for air travelers, what's allowed in your carry-on, what you should check, at our Web site NPR.org.
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If you're planning to fly in the foreseeable future, brace yourself for big changes at the airport. The Department of Homeland Security has raised alert levels for all commercial flights and tightened airport security measures after British officials disrupted a plot to blow up multiple trans-Atlantic flights bound for the United States.
Here's a look at what passengers now face. Keep in mind that policies may not be uniformly enforced at every airport.
How early should I get to the airport?
Kathryn Sudeikis, president of the American Society of Travel Agents, suggests three hours for international flights and two hours for domestic flights. Generally speaking, security screeners are being extra-vigilant, and if you end up in a slow line, you could miss your flight. There are some reports of security lines that go out the door (which is not unusual this time of year). But maybe you'll be lucky: There are still reports of travelers making it through the security checkpoint in minutes.
What can I bring on a plane?
The Transportation Security Administration's list of prohibited items, which includes knives, baseball bats and ammunition, remains in effect. All hand luggage will be physically inspected at the departure gate, according to the TSA. Additionally, on all U.S. flights, all liquids and gels must be checked in with your luggage. This includes all beverages, shampoo, suntan lotion, contact lens solutions, creams, toothpaste, hair gel and other items of similar consistency. The only exceptions are baby formula, liquid prescription medicines (the name on the bottle must match the name on your ticket), and essential over-the-counter liquid medications, which must be presented for inspection at the checkpoint. Pills, however, present no problems.
Can I still buy a cup of coffee after going through the security checkpoint?
Yes, but finish it before boarding. Even a beverage purchased past a security checkpoint must be consumed before you get on the plane, according to the TSA. You won't be allowed to board with it.
What if I'm on a flight from the United Kingdom to the United States?
The screening process for passengers will be "more extensive," according to officials. All hand luggage will be physically inspected at the departure gate, according to the TSA.
How do I rethink my packing strategy?
For the time being, the TSA will allow carry-on bags on domestic flights as long as you follow the liquids and gel rules, but you should have a backup plan in case things change universally or at a particular airport. According to the TSA, electronic devices such as laptops and cell phones are allowed on board. Some solid or powdered cosmetics are also permitted, though the TSA recommends checking them.
What if I'm traveling with beverages for kids? Or if I'm prone to dehydration?
The TSA allows you to carry on baby formula, breast milk or juice if a baby or small child is traveling with you. If you're an adult, you're out of luck. So drink up before leaving the airport. Once airborne, ask a flight attendant for water immediately. Airlines should be stocking their flights with extra beverages, particularly on longer trans-Atlantic flights. "I bet that if this prohibition against liquids becomes permanent, airlines will have to begin loading up more water and supplying it to passengers more quickly and more often," says Sally Watkins, vice chairwoman of the Association of Retail Travel Agents.
Will there likely be any long-term changes in security?
Yes. Travel experts believe this could not only change the way passengers are screened, but could even change the TSA itself. "The Transportation Security Administration and some members of Congress will likely use this opportunity to argue for the removal of the cap on the number of airport screeners," says Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition, a group that represents corporate travelers and their companies. Airport screening will become more intensive, too, says Scot Phelps, a professor of disaster management at Metropolitan College in New York. "I anticipate a move towards (Israeli airline) El-Al levels of security — 100 percent bag scanning, more aggressive interviewing of passengers, and more physical searching of carry-on baggage," he says.
If my flight is canceled, what does my airline owe me?
Technically, nothing. No free hotel, no meal vouchers, no phone card. A flight cancellation of this kind would be considered a "force majeure" event, which is beyond the control of the carrier. For example, American Airlines canceled three of its 16 scheduled Thursday flights from the United Kingdom to the United States. Under its conditions of carriage — the legal agreement between the carrier and its passengers — its only obligation is to issue a full refund. They don't even have to put you on the next flight. But airlines have loosened some of their rules in the wake of the foiled terrorist plot. For customers traveling within or between the United States, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands whose tickets were issued no later than Aug. 9, American allows a change in your travel date up to Sept. 1. Or you can request a refund in the form of a travel voucher for nonrefundable tickets. United Airlines has also changed some of its policies.
Should I consider buying travel insurance?
If there are future cancellations, chances are good that the airlines will waive penalties for ticket changes again. But if you're planning a vacation, then you also stand to lose more than an airline ticket, and the right insurance policy can be helpful. Some policies include coverage for delays and reimburse passengers for additional travel and lodging expenses until travel becomes possible. Many insurance plans include 24-hour emergency travel assistance that can be accessed worldwide for help in rebooking canceled flights, rerouting trips or making or changing hotel reservations, says Dan McGinnity, a spokesman for Travel Guard International, an insurance company.
Christopher Elliott is National Geographic Traveler's ombudsman, an independent producer for National Public Radio and a syndicated travel columnist. He has a blog called Ellipses.