WASHINGTON — The Federal Aviation Administration on Monday ordered sharp restrictions on carry-on baggage and additional searches of passengers as part of an effort to bolster security after the bombing of Afghanistan.
FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said passengers will now be limited to one carry-on bag plus a "personal item" such as a purse or briefcase. "We were already at a high level of security, [but] during wartime there's a higher level," Brown said.
Limits on carry-on articles--long advocated by flight attendants--had previously been resisted by some airlines as an inconvenience to travelers. The FAA action is another indication of a new climate in which security considerations override travelers' wishes.
The directive comes as the government is urging airports and airlines to maintain a higher level of awareness against possible reprisals for the military strikes targeting Osama bin Laden and the Taliban.
The FAA has ordered security personnel to conduct searches with metal-detecting wands on some passengers even after they have cleared checkpoints. And Monday, the FAA said it has authorized security personnel to search some passengers again at the departure gate.
The current security system is a blend of federal regulations with private and local government responsibilities. This week, Congress is expected to act on legislation that would put aviation security under direct control of a new government agency, and may also result in federal employees screening passengers at the major airports.
"This whole process is going to be revamped," Brown said.
Airlines have traditionally set their own carry-on policies. Most allowed passengers to take two bags and personal items. Northwest had a one-bag limit, but other airlines, such as Continental, sought a competitive advantage by maintaining generous carry-on policies.
Restricting carry-ons has an immediate benefit for airport screeners, who scan thousands of items through X-ray machines.
"One carry-on bag per person would decrease the volume of bags that screeners are responsible for looking at," said Gerald Dillingham, head of aviation issues for the congressional General Accounting Office. "They would have more time to do a thorough job."
Brown said will have airlines leeway to set maximum carry-on size.
But the FAA has banned corkscrews, baseball and softball bats, golf clubs, pool cues, ski poles and hockey sticks. Canes and umbrellas are permitted, upon inspection. Syringes are allowed with proof of medical need, such as for diabetics. Nail clippers, safety razors, tweezers and eyelash curlers are allowed.
Flight attendants have campaigned for years to limit carry-on baggage, arguing that it creates a workplace hazard.
But until now, the flight attendants' view had not found support in the aviation community.
That changed last week when a special advisory group formed in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks recommended that Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta limit carry-ons to one bag.
"The overriding concept is to limit the amount of screening to be done, thereby having more time to do it well," the group said.
When Washington's Ronald Reagan National Airport reopened Thursday, the FAA imposed a one-bag carry-on limit at that facility. Sunday, United Airlines announced that it would restrict carry-on baggage to one item on its flights.