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New Rules Are Applied Unevenly

Security: A hodgepodge of tougher safety measures nationwide leaves passengers and flight attendants nervous and confused.

September 19, 2001|DAVID STREITFELD and NANCY CLEELAND and CHRISTINE HANLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

At a barbecue restaurant inside the Dallas airport, cooks are cutting meat with a pancake flipper. A Native American crafts store in the Minneapolis airport has stopped selling arrowheads and toy bow-and-arrow sets. In Reno, toenail clippers and corkscrews are being confiscated.

Los Angeles International Airport has banned all private vehicles from in front of the terminals. But cars are still permitted at Ontario International, so long as the drivers are quick. In St. Louis, sedans are allowed, but vans and campers are not.

In the eight days since four U.S. airline jets were hijacked by terrorists armed with short knives and box cutters, new security measures have been implemented by airports, airlines and the federal government. After air travel resumed this week with 80% of scheduled flights, passengers across the country have encountered security restrictions that vary widely.

Overall, fliers are resigned, confused and nervous. Flight attendants are increasingly concerned, with many saying they don't feel safe and some declining to work. The federal government says it is expanding the Sky Marshals program that places armed agents on airplanes, but declines to say how much.

On Sept. 12, the Federal Aviation Administration announced that airlines and airports would have to meet new, stringent security requirements before they could receive permission to resume operations. These included no curbside check-in, restricting traffic in boarding areas to ticketed passengers and more random identification checks of people in airport areas.

The result, according to interviews with air transport officials and passengers at more than a dozen airports, is a hodgepodge of new rules and restrictions being unevenly implemented. Though all airports appear to be meeting the minimum requirements established by the FAA, some have instituted more extensive measures than others.

"We need to rethink our whole security plan and put in measures nationwide," said Charlie LeBlanc, managing director of Air Security International in Houston. "It shouldn't be different whether you're flying from LAX or San Jose or Boston or Beaumont, Texas."

Aviation security is a shared responsibility in the United States. The FAA sets and enforces security standards, airlines are responsible for screening passengers and their baggage, and local airports--many of which have their own police departments--oversee the security of buildings, runways, roads and other facilities.

FAA spokesman Paul Takemoto said the new procedures are being uniformly applied throughout the country.

"As far as I know, things are going well," Takemoto said. "I haven't heard anything about it being uneven."

Security at the three major airports serving New York City are at the highest levels ever, said Ralph Tragale, spokesman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. "You will notice extra security. It will be visible and more visible than you ever noticed before. The security is very aggressive and will remain aggressive. But we are not going to apologize about our security measures."

Pastor's Passport Checked 4 Times

At some airports, passengers say they barely notice any changes.

"It's the same as every other time I've flown," said Kristin Korell, flying out of John Wayne Airport in Orange County to her home in Denver.

Carlos Uribe, a Christian pastor and missionary who lives in Mexico, had a different experience flying out of San Francisco. He had his passport checked four times.

"I don't mind," Uribe said. "I understand the problem and I'm willing to do what I have to do."

The most aggressive security measures deployed since last week's terrorist attacks involve the banning of any sort of cutting instrument, no matter how minor.

"We are confiscating anything that resembles a knife," Reno/Tahoe International Airport spokesman Adam Mayberry said. "We've confiscated lots and lots of scissors, fingernail filers, toenail clippers, corkscrews."

Airports are prohibiting the use of metal knives, not only by diners in concourse restaurants but by the employees.

"They took all our knives, but we've kind of learned to work around it," said Candace Brooks, manager of Dickey's barbecue restaurant at Dallas / Fort Worth International. "We're using one of those things you flip pancakes with. It doesn't slice barbecue very well--it just kind of breaks up the meat--but it's the only thing we can use."

Amed Omar, manager of the O'Brien's Restaurant and Bar at Chicago's O'Hare, said his operation has been forced to stop selling the prime steaks that the flagship in Chicago's Old Town neighborhood is famous for.

"We had to eliminate some of the menu items that had to be cut or prepared here, like romaine lettuce," Omar said. "We no longer get whole romaine lettuce, only cut lettuce. Some of the steaks we had to eliminate. With chicken, we switched to pre-cut chicken."

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