- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Delays were few at Washington-area airports yesterday despite lingering terrorism concerns among passengers coping with new security procedures since British authorities last week thwarted a plot to blow up airliners en route to the United States.

Passengers typically waited no more than 10 minutes to pass through security checkpoints at Ronald Reagan Washington National, Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall and Washington Dulles International airports.

On Thursday, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) started banning passengers from carrying liquids, gels and creams onto commercial airliners out of concern the containers could conceal explosive chemicals. Passengers sometimes waited hours in lines that stretched out of airport terminal doors onto the sidewalk.

“The first day was a challenge for everybody,” said Tara Hamilton, spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which operates Reagan and Dulles airports. “But as people are learning more what is prohibited, the lines are moving well.”

This week, the TSA eased the restrictions to allow medicines onto planes. Beverages are still prohibited, and all passengers must remove their shoes so they can be run through scanners.

On Sunday, the agency ordered more bomb-sniffing dogs at airports and allowed passengers to carry up to 4 ounces of most medicinal liquids, gels or creams and 8 ounces of insulin or low-blood-sugar gel onto airplanes.

“It provides the same level of security,” said TSA spokeswoman Amy Kudwa. It also “lessens passenger impact.”

The Department of Homeland Security, which includes the TSA, said Sunday it would replace private contractors with screeners to verify passengers’ tickets and identification.

Currently, contractors hired by airlines verify tickets and identification before passengers reach the screening checkpoints with their carry-on items.

The plan announced by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff would assign the contractors to pick up passengers’ checked baggage and put it into scanners, a job currently performed by screeners.

Screeners would continue to review X-ray images of the contents. Screeners freed from loading bags into scanners would be reassigned to verify tickets and identification before passengers pass through security checkpoints.

“The security measures already taken have allowed us to address an imminent threat of attack,” Mr. Chertoff said. “Let me be clear. This does not mean the threat is over. The investigation continues to follow all leads.”

Airline travelers seemed tolerant of the tougher security rules yesterday.

Stephanie Muir, a 20-year-old community-college student from Baltimore, was returning to BWI from a vacation in Orlando, Fla. She departed on Thursday, the first day security rules banning liquids, gels and creams took effect.

“That was the day it was all hectic,” she said.

Since then, the long lines at BWI security checkpoints dwindled to waits averaging about five minutes.

“I think now they’re calming down,” Miss Muir said as she waited at a baggage carousel.

She holds no grudges against the TSA or airlines.

“They’re doing what they have to do,” she said.

Michael Behm, a D.C. consultant, said he flew from Denver to Washington on Thursday.

“It was chaos,” Mr. Behm said.

Passengers and security personnel appear to have adjusted to the new requirements and the heightened alert.

“This is a breeze,” he said yesterday while waiting at a security checkpoint at Reagan Airport, on his way to Nashville, Tenn. “People come to the airport a little earlier, and they are prepared.”

Although passengers are adapting to the security rules, the risk of terrorism occasionally haunts some of them.

“It definitely crossed my mind on the plane a couple of times on the way down,” said Mike Porter, a plastics salesman from Jacksonville, Fla., changing flights at BWI. “But you got to do what you got to do.”

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