Europe Seeks to Unify Airport Security Rules
by Eric Pfanner | International Herald Tribune | August 16, 2006
LONDON — Home Secretary John Reid met Wednesday with counterparts from several European countries to coordinate airport security policies after a crackdown in Britain led to fears that terrorists could carry out their plans by boarding planes elsewhere.
Flight disruptions dragged into a seventh day at London-area airports after Britain alleged last week that plotters wanted to blow up trans-Atlantic airliners. European countries have since imposed a patchwork of makeshift rules with varying levels of security restrictions.
Reid, who has been coordinating Britain’s response to the situation, met with the interior ministers of France, Germany, Portugal, Finland and Slovenia. “It’s very important that the measures that are taken in one country are reflected in other countries because we want equal security for all our countries,” Reid said at a news conference after the meeting. “What is clear to all of us is that we face a persistent and very real threat across Europe,” he said.
Fears about continuing security lapses were heightened Wednesday by reports that a 12-year-old boy had managed to pass through security checks at Gatwick Airport outside London and to slip onto a Lisbon-bound plane without a boarding pass or a passport before the cabin crew spotted him. The boy had apparently run away from home and traveled to London by train. “The boy had passed through our full security screening process, so he had passed through the search process,” a BAA spokesman told BBC radio. “I’m confident there was no threat at any stage to passengers and staff or to the aircraft.”
Although British Airways said it would operate 90 percent of its scheduled flights Wednesday, it canceled 32 short-haul and 3 long-haul departures from London Heathrow Airport and 11 domestic flights from Gatwick Airport. British Airways, whose operations have been the most heavily affected by the terrorism alert, predicted a further improvement for Thursday and said it would return to normal Friday.
Airport workers struggled to clear a backlog of thousands of undelivered checked bags at Heathrow and other airports. Theft of baggage has reportedly been a growing problem, as passengers were initially required to check everything except essentials like passports and wallets. That meant that valuable items like cameras, music players and laptop computers were consigned to checked baggage.
Later, the British authorities allowed passengers to carry small bags, though no liquids, into airplane cabins. International security measures have lacked consistency, with different countries imposing different rules. According to the low-cost carrier Ryanair, flights from Poland to Britain remained subject to the strictest limitations on hand baggage, with passengers barred from bringing anything but essential items like passports and wallets. But Ryanair said flights from France and Italy to Britain faced a different level of security, with passengers allowed to carry on bags but not liquids or gels.
On Tuesday, the British authorities said they had arrested an additional suspect in connection with the alleged plot, bringing the total number of people being held in the case to 24. None of the suspects have been formally charged.