- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 19, 2002

The most surprising part of the new baggage-screening procedures that started at the nation's airports yesterday was that few problems arose.

Lines were only slightly longer, check-ins took about the same length of time, and flight delays were rare.

"Where are the lines?" a limousine driver waiting for an arriving passenger at Baltimore-Washington International Airport yesterday morning asked an airport customer-service representative. He referred to warnings of likely delays by the airline industry and members of Congress who enacted the "100-percent search rule."

The law that took effect yesterday requires airlines to screen all bags with bomb-detection machines, explosive-chemical-sniffing dogs, hand searches or by matching each bag loaded on an airplane to a passenger on the same plane.

The only obvious difference at Washington's three major airports was the more frequent use of the bomb-detection machines.

"You're not going to see anything here," said a National Guardsman holding an automatic rifle at BWI's Pier A checkpoint. "It all goes on behind the scenes."

While the new screening procedures took place on the ground, the Federal Aviation Administration yesterday issued new guidelines for dealing with hijackers in the air urging pilots and flight attendants to take aggressive steps in confronting everything from unruly passengers to terrorist takeover attempts.

In a departure from decades-old policy that presumed cooperating with hijackers was the best way to avoid tragedy, the FAA guidelines say airline crews should fight hijackers with their fists and feet and with assistance from passengers but for now, not with guns.

"The biggest change is a shift from passive to active resistance," said FAA spokesman Christopher White. "Any passenger disturbance should be regarded as suspicious."

Bag matching was the predominant method airlines used to comply with the law yesterday.

If passengers do not board a flight before their checked baggage is loaded, the airplane will be delayed until their baggage is removed.

Democrats in Congress criticized the technique as ineffective against suicide bombers or bombs in luggage that gets transferred to other flights.

No planes were reported delayed in the Washington area yesterday over the removal of passengers' bags.

Long lines were reported at airports in Boston and Denver in the morning. By midafternoon, airports nationwide reported smooth movement through checkpoints.

"It appears people were prepared," said BWI spokesman John White. "You won't notice much of anything different when you come in this morning."

Some flights arriving from other airports were behind schedule, but Mr. White would only speculate on whether bag matching caused the delays.

Ronald Reagan Washington National and Washington Dulles International airports also had painless first days.

"I think it's gone pretty well," said Tara Hamilton, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority spokeswoman. "We have been busier at National than we have for some time."

She attributed the increased number of passengers at Reagan Airport to the Martin Luther King holiday weekend and the gradually increasing number of flights authorized by the FAA.

The next deadline in the phased tightening of security is Feb. 17, when the federal government takes over control of airline security from private contractors.

The luggage-scanning process at Reagan Airport was longer than it was at Dulles, despite the fact that the airport is operating at half its pre-September 11 capacity. By some accounts, it is the most heavily guarded airport in the nation.

Passengers reported only minor inconveniences.

"I would say they looked a little closer," said Russell Hill, a 52-year-old Air National Guardsman returning home to Niagara Falls, N.Y. For the last month, he was assigned to the logistics readiness center at Andrews Air Force Base, where jet fighter patrols over the East Coast have been coordinated since the September 11 attacks.

Screeners at BWI asked him about whether he kept his bags with him after he left for the airport and whether anyone had asked him to carry something onto an airplane for them.

"They were the same questions, but more intensified," Mr. Hill said. "I could wear my coat before through the metal detector, but now I had to take it off."

Passengers at Dulles and Reagan airports told similar stories.

"I've been here since 4:30 this morning and nothing is different," said a clerk at a newsstand. "People are cooperating. The lines are the same. Everything is calm."

Marie Quintana, who flies out of Dulles Airport frequently, said the airport seemed the same, except that a few more security guards than usual were making the rounds.

Mrs. Quintana checked in and made her way to the area where bags were being scanned through X-ray machines.

"This seems all right," she said. "I'm not worried anything will happen to my bag if it gets searched. But I guess we'll have to wait and see when I get it back."

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