US Airline Security Demands Cause Confusion in Europe
Airline passengers bound for the United States faced a hodgepodge of security measures across Europe on Monday, and airports did not appear to be following a U.S. request for increased screening of passengers from 14 countries.
U.S. officials in Washington said the new security measures would be implemented Monday but there were few visible changes on the ground in Europe, which has thousands of passengers on hundreds of daily flights to the United States.
Large hubs such as London, Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt alone account for 20-30 trans-Atlantic flights a day each — but there was no uniform consensus on necessary security measures.
In Britain, a major international transport hub, a spokesman for the Department of Transportation said he was still trying to decipher the practical implications of the new U.S. rules. He refused to give his name due to the sensitivity of the subject.
U.S. authorities said as of Monday, anyone traveling from or through nations regarded as state sponsors of terrorism — as well as "other countries of interest" — will be required to go through enhanced screening. The Transportation Security Administration said those techniques would include full-body pat-downs, carryon bag searches, full-body scanning and explosive detection technology.
The U.S. State Department lists Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria as state sponsors of terrorism. The other countries whose passengers are supposed to face enhanced screening include Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen.
Nationals from those countries already require a visa to enter the United States.
The new measures followed the arrest of a Nigerian man, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who allegedly tried to set off an explosive device on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day. Abdulmutallab is now at a federal prison in Milan, Michigan and faces a court hearing on Friday.
At London's busy Heathrow Airport, management consultant James MacDonald said before he boarded a flight to Denver that he would not mind an extra wait if it enhanced flight security.
"I can understand why if you're from Pakistan or whatever it would make it even worse," said MacDonald, a 52-year-old American. "On the other hand, if it's a question of safety, I really don't see any argument there."
Germany increased security at all airports following the failed Christmas Day attack, but authorities said Monday no further measures have been taken since. In Switzerland, authorities were studying the new U.S. security measures, but so far the old controls were still in place.
And in Spain, U.S.-bound passengers from countries on the new watch list were not being singled out for body frisks, according to a security official who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with agency rules.
There is no European-wide consensus yet on the need for full body scanners — which are being sought in Britain by Prime Minister Gordon Brown — but European Union officials said the issue will be raised at a special security meeting soon.
Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport begin using two full-body scanners on flights to the U.S. last week and was pressing to retrofit 13 others with special, less invasive software to put them into use in the next three weeks.
Some travelers thought concerns about privacy were overrated.
"I think privacy can be easily sacrificed in the name of security," said Mauro Forno, a 46-year-old tourist who flew into Rome from Genoa with his family. "Nudity is not a problem for anybody at the beach in the summer."
The world's airline pilots' grouping welcomed the new security measures demanded by the U.S., noting that they had not resulted in the same massive flight delays seen after the 9/11 attacks.
"Our position is that we want the bad guys kept away from airplanes," said Gideon Ewers, spokesman for the International Federation of Airline Pilots' Associations (IFALPA). "We firmly as believe that intelligence gathering and interdiction of potential terrorists is the way to protect aircraft and the flying public."
Elsewhere in the world, there has been a general ramping up of security since Christmas.
In Jordan, a key U.S. ally, security was beefed up at Amman's main international airport since the Christmas Day bombing attempt. An official at Queen Alia International Airport said "enhanced techniques" were being applied, especially in screening passengers bound for the United States. He declined to elaborate.
Pakistan's national airline said it intensified security checks for U.S.-bound passengers beginning Jan. 1, even though there are no direct flights to the States from Pakistan.
"It is beyond my imagination what more they could do," said Nadim Umer, 40, a Karachi-based linen merchant who said he was strip searched when he arrived in New York last June. "Those who are dying to go to America at any cost can put up with all this inhuman behavior, but I cannot."
Pakistan International Airlines spokesman Sultan Hasan said the passengers are subjected to special screening, including full body searches.
"We are already carrying out all possible security arrangements at our airports, which can be compared with any Western airport," Pervez George, spokesman for Pakistan's Civil Aviation Authority.
But there were no signs of security changes Monday at international airports in Syria and Lebanon, two of the countries on the U.S. list.
In South Korea, U.S.-bound passengers were required to go through additional security before boarding their flights and security officials were compiling lists of "suspicious" passengers to monitor based on their nationalities, travel patterns and ticket purchases.
In Australia, all passengers flying to the U.S. were being patted down and were having all their cabin luggage searched.
Baghdad's International Airport already has extremely tight security, with all luggage sniffed by dogs and passengers patted down before they can even enter the airport.
"Our security procedures at the airport are more intensified than that in any other airport in the world," said security official Umran Idris.
Maayan Malkin, spokeswoman for Israel Airports Authority, declined to discuss security arrangements. The Ben-Gurion International airport near Tel Aviv is considered one of the safest in the world.