In-flight security rules eased

Monday, December 28, 2009 - 5:26pm

DALLAS, Tex. - In-flight security rules have been eased after a two-day clampdown, airline officials familiar with the matter said Monday.

At the captain's discretion, passengers can once again have blankets and other items on their laps or move about the cabin during the tail end of flight. In-flight entertainment restrictions have also been lifted.

The airline officials spoke on condition of anonymity because federal safety officials had not publicly announced the changes.

Security rules were relaxed in the last 24 hours, one official said.

Tougher airline security measures were imposed Friday after a man flying from Nigeria to Amsterdam then to the U.S. on a Northwest Airlines flight tried to ignite an explosive as the plane prepared to land in Detroit. On Sunday, police met another Amsterdam-to-Detroit flight after the crew reported a "verbally disruptive passenger." A law enforcement official said the man posed no security risk to the plane.

Government officials have refused to discuss what restrictions had been put into place, but in many airports lines were longer and security personnel were extra diligent.

Travelers on incoming international flights said that during the final hour, attendants removed blankets, banned opening overhead bins, and told passengers to stay in their seats with their hands in plain sight.

In Philadelphia, sisters Leslie and Lilliam Bernal said security was much tighter as they returned from a wedding in the Dominican Republic than it had been in September, when they made the same trip.

Leslie, 26, of Keasby, N.J., said security screeners in Santo Domingo asked her to lift her long hair so they could look at her back.

"I don't mind at all," she said. "I'd rather them do what they have to do."

Authorities introduced a second layer of security at Pearson International Airport in Toronto. On Monday morning, every U.S.-bound passenger was subjected to a pat down and their luggage was inspected by hand. It took about three hours for travelers to get through the checks.

On one Air Canada flight from Toronto to New York's La Guardia Airport the crew told passengers before departure that in addition to remaining in their seats for the duration of one-hour flight, they were not allowed to use any electronic devices - even iPods - or their own headphones. The crew also told passengers that they would not be able to access their personal belongings because of the "enhanced security procedures."

At Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, television screens were tuned to the Atlanta Falcons football game, and some passengers were only faintly aware of Friday's incident in Detroit.

Jeff Fox, of Alpharetta, Ga., who was returning with his family from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. after a weeklong cruise, said he will tolerate new restrictions if officials think they will keep passengers safer.

"I'm one of those who trusts that they're trying to do the right thing, even if it is a pain," he said.

The incident Friday, however, continued to raise questions about security, said Jack Riepe, a spokesman for the Association of Corporate Travel Executives.

Riepe said corporate travel managers want to know how Friday's suspect reached Detroit even though he was on a watch list maintained by counterterrorism experts. A government official said the suspect's father raised concerns about him to U.S. officials several weeks ago, but the father's information about his son's possible ties to fundamentalist Islamic groups was too vague to act upon.

U.S. airlines have been appealing to federal officials to make restrictions effective but palatable to passengers.

They remember that passengers accepted tough new security measures immediately after the 2001 terror attacks, which grounded all flights for several days, but that support for the restrictions waned.
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AP writers Shannon McCaffrey in Atlanta, Karen Hawkins in Chicago, Kathy Matheson in Philadelphia, Matt Lee in Washington, Dan Strumpf in New York and John Heilprin in Toronto, contributed to this report. Koenig reported from Dallas.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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