Washington, Jan. 1 (Reuters): US authorities at airports nationwide began checking all bags for explosives today, the latest precaution sparked by the September 11, 2001, hijacked airliner attacks.
As of midnight, 100 per cent of bags were being checked for explosives, more than 90 per cent of them electronically, up from 5 per cent before the 2001 attacks, the Transportation Security Administration said.
Those not screened by machines were being gone over by hand or by bomb-sniffing dogs, or matched to passenger lists to make sure travellers who checked luggage actually got on their flights.
The bag-matching programme was only be used rarely because it is considered an insufficient measure at a time of suicide hijackings. It will, however, include a secret security measure that the authorities declined to discuss.
Despite fears of longer lines at check-in counters on New Year’s day as the new procedures took effect nationwide, a spokeswoman for the security agency created 13 months ago said travel was proceeding smoothly.
“There are no delays,” said Chris Rhatigan.
She said passengers had been prepared for the new layer of security aimed at preventing terrorists from blowing up an airliner, as happened in 1988 with the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
“Everybody was well aware that this milestone was coming and they were all prepared for it,” Rhatigan said.
The Transportation Security Administration urged travellers to leave their bags unlocked for possible scrutiny of contents.
Citing security reasons, the authorities declined to discuss how baggage was screened at individual airports or which airports had been granted extensions for installing required luggage-screening machines.
James Loy, a retired Coast Guard commandant who heads the Transportation Security Administration, said the challenge was to keep innovating to prevent terrorists from finding loopholes.
Among changes so far have been stepped-up security at US airport perimeters, roving law enforcement officers at airports, thousands of federal sky marshals aboard flights, hardened cockpit doors and heightened vigilance for carry-on luggage.