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10 August, 2006  

Good morning

Special  Air  Travel  Security  Alert


A terrorist plot to bomb ten planes in the UK was foiled when police arrested 24 plotters late yesterday.  This has resulted in extraordinary security measures in the UK and only slightly less severe security measures at US and other world airports.

Situation in the UK at present

Currently, passengers are not being allowed to carry anything on board flights with them except for their travel documents in a clear plastic bag.  No liquids, no books, no ipods, no nothing at all.

The UK is on its highest security alert, and there is massive disruption to flights.  Many flights have been cancelled and others are subject to lengthy delays, while some flights are departing empty without passengers just so they can get to their next scheduled stop.  Total chaos has reigned at airports earlier in the day, with some improvements now occuring.

Situation in the US

The TSA has raised its security level to orange (second highest) for all regular flights and to red  (highest) for flights inbound from the UK.

In addition to more stringent security screening in general, the TSA has now banned all liquids from carry-on items.  Their official announcement says

NO LIQUIDS OR GELS OF ANY KIND WILL BE PERMITTED IN CARRY-ON BAGGAGE. ITEMS MUST BE IN CHECKED BAGGAGE. This includes all beverages, shampoo, suntan lotion, creams, tooth paste, hair gel, and other items of similar consistency.

What you should do

If you're in the UK, you should consider cancelling or delaying any flights you might have scheduled today/tomorrow/over the weekend.  Hopefully by sometime next week, wiser heads will prevail and the blanket ban on all carry-ons will have been amended to something more appropriate; plus, by then, arriving passengers at airports will be better briefed on what to expect and do, and the airlines, airports, and security checkpoints will be better staffed to handle the delays and problems.

If you're in the US, expect increased delays going through security and do not carry any type of liquid or paste in your carry-on.  Current reports are suggesting delays of as much as two hours going through security in Denver, and varying levels of delay at other airports.

If you're on a flight bound for the UK, be sure to check if it is still operating and if it has been delayed.  With delays to incoming flights from the UK, it is probable that many/most flights from the US to the UK over the next day or two will also be delayed.

Background and analysis

This plot was designed to blow up as many as twenty airplanes in flight between the UK and the US, and apparently was going to take place on flights to New York, Washington DC, and California, on planes operated by UA, AA, and CO.

It is cold comfort to advise that the plot was to use a security vulnerability I had written about earlier this year - multi-part liquid explosives that individually are not easily detected by normal security screening methods, and which make a dangerous explosive when mixed together.

It is also probable this new scheme was based on a plot back in January 1995, when Al-Qaeda terrorists attempted to destroy 11 planes on 21/22 January 1995, using liquid explosives based on an undetectable type of nitro-glycerine.  Philippino police arrested the plotters in Manila before they could carry out their attacks back then, just as British police have hopefully arrested all the plotters this time.

But how many more times will we have to hope that such attacks are detected prior to the plotters getting to the airport, where they apparently could then successfully take their bombs on board planes without detection?

Why is it that when terrorists attack planes with box-cutters, we immediately panic, but when terrorists demonstrate a much more deadly vulnerability, nothing happens for almost twelve years?

And why is it that, in responding to a threat to blow up a plane with liquid explosives, the UK security forces now ban people from carrying anything and everything onto a plane?  Not even a book to read.

Lastly, one wonders what the airlines' approach to baggage liability will be now that passengers are forced to check all their belongings, including high value jewellery and electronics and fragile items.  Until now, airlines have either excluded such items from their coverage, and/or their low limits of total liability have prevented people from recovering full value if their luggage is lost or stolen.

Stay tuned for the regular newsletter on Friday morning, which will have updates to this new situation.

              David M Rowell aka The Travel Insider

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