- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 10, 2006

The discovery of a terror plot to blow up planes from Britain to the United States caused long lines and commuting problems yesterday in airports and transportation hubs around the region.

“Oh my God, I’ve been in this line over an hour,” said Jeanne Harley, 60, a retired federal worker waiting at a security checkpoint at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. “But I know the reason, so I don’t mind.”

Department of Homeland Security officials elevated the country’s threat level to “high” for all commercial flights within or destined for the United States after British authorities arrested 24 persons in a plot to use liquid explosives sparked by electronic devices to blow up more than 10 planes headed to the United States. They also elevated the level to “severe” for commercial flights originating in Britain and bound for the United States.

The threat was aimed at American, Continental and United airlines flights, officials said.

Officials banned passengers nationwide from storing liquids or gels such as beverages and toothpaste in their carry-on bags. They were instead permitted to place the items in their checked baggage, though exceptions were made for such personal belongings as medicine and baby formula.

“The security will remain very tight … into the near future” said Maryland Deputy Transportation Secretary James F. Ports Jr.

The precautions resulted in long security lines and delays across the country.

At Newark International Airport in New Jersey, one security checkpoint line stretched the entire length of the terminal.

Officials with the Transportation Security Administration and other agencies said it was “too early to say” how long the restrictions might last.

James C. May, president of the Air Transport Association — the airline industry’s largest trade group — said security will be expanded nationwide today to include additional checks of passengers and their carry-on luggage.

Mr. May said passengers at 25 airports with planes departing for Britain yesterday were subjected to additional checks and that measure would “spread across the whole system” today.

At BWI, travelers taking early morning flights waited 90 minutes or more in security lines.

Chuck Serra, a sales representative for a pharmaceutical company who was returning to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, said he didn’t mind the wait or the new baggage restrictions.

“You would rather be safe than sorry,” said Mr. Serra, 70. “You cannot let [terrorists] rule your life. You have to go with the flow.”

Airport officials handed out leaflets detailing the changes and pulled passengers at risk of missing their flights out of the long line, placing them in a shorter ones to the security gate, where authorities searched carry-on luggage and enforced the new ban.

“They are holding a lot of planes as much as they can,” said Richard J. Keen, a transportation manager for the Maryland Aviation Administration.

The lines and waits at BWI became shorter as the day continued. However, airport officials were on high alert at about 4 p.m. when an Air Canada jet from Montreal to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport made an unscheduled landing because an unclaimed package was reported on board. A bomb-sniffing dog later cleared the package.

Travelers at Reagan airport and Dulles International Airport reacted to the increased security like others around the world.

“I’d much sooner have it this way than to have a bomb,” said Tom Ainslie, 76, of Los Angeles, as his 9-year-old grandson Michael hurried to finish his tea before entering one of the security checkpoints at Dulles. “I don’t like it, but because of what’s happening in the world, I’d rather be safe.”

Trash cans at the checkpoints filled quickly, as passengers dumped shaving cream, contact-lens solutions and other personal items.

Ree Smith, going to a jewelry convention in Long Beach, Calif., mailed home expensive cosmetic products instead of throwing them in the trash.

“We’ll stop by a drug store in California and pick up whatever we need,” Miss Smith said. “We’ll have cheap lipstick, but I’d rather be inconvenienced than blown up on a plane.”

Passengers on United Flight 923 — one of the first to arrive from London’s Heathrow Airport in the United States — touched down just after 1 p.m. at Dulles after a delay of about two hours.

“Everyone was really calm,” said Jim McConnell, a passenger from Charlottesville. “I think people have grown to accept the state of the world.”

Government officials said most flight delays related to security changes occurred in the morning and air traffic tended to smooth out by the afternoon. But they warned that a combination of bad weather and the security changes could make things worse last night.

Delta Air Lines spokeswoman Gina Laughlin said some flights were delayed yesterday 15 to 30 minutes and all were “related to the changes in the security procedures.”

In the District, Metro police issued security announcements on buses and subway trains, increased inspections, closed bathrooms for the day and briefly closed stations without warning, said agency spokeswoman Candace Smith.

“We ask people to be alert and call if they see suspicious packages or persons,” she said. “It’s prudent because mass transit has been a target in the past.”

Restaurants and shops were closed in Union Station after two suspicious packages were found. Shortly after noon, police used robots and exploded the packages, determining that they were not terrorist bombs.

Amtrak spokeswoman Karina Romero said the railroad would be extending its police shifts to 12 hours. She said ticket agents would continue checking passenger identification and police would be performing normal K-9 sweeps.

S.A. Miller and Arlo Wagner contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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