LONDON — Air travellers faced stringent new security restrictions Monday following an attempt to blow up a US airliner, including a ban on going to the toilet during the final hour of some flights.
Passengers in the United States and Europe found their flights during the already busy holiday season were subject to delay to allow time for increased searches and checks in the wake of the botched attack on Friday.
Amsterdam-Schiphol airport was investigating how a 23-year-old Nigerian with reported links to Al-Qaeda could have smuggled on board explosives that he allegedly tried to detonate as the flight from Amsterdam approached Detroit.
In Lagos, Nigerian authorities said Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had transited the country the day before the bombing attempt.
"The man in question has been living outside the country for a while. He sneaked into Nigeria on the 24th of December and left the same day," Information Minister Dora Akunyili said.
The United States asked airlines worldwide to tighten security and airport authorities said they were complying with extra screening and strict baggage limits that heaped hours on to check-in times.
Akunyili defended Nigeria's security measures, saying she wanted "to assure everybody that our airports are very safe," having just passed an International Civil Aviation Organisation security audit and the American Transportation Security Administration audit in November.
"However, in the light of the new developments, we have reinforced our security systems in all our airports," she added.
Within the United States, passengers were told to check in four hours ahead of their departure times, while bomb-sniffing dogs were visible at airports.
Airlines said passengers would now have to remain seated for the final hour of the journey, with no access to the bathroom or overhead lockers, and nothing on their laps.
That appeared to be a direct response to the attempted attack in which Abdulmutallab allegedly tried to detonate explosives hidden in his underwear after visiting the toilet shortly before the Northwest Airlines plane landed.
Dino Melchior, 50, was stuck in Chicago with his parents and two children after his flight from Toronto was delayed by two hours due to heightened security -- and they missed their connecting flight to Hawaii.
"Apparently a new directive came out for people to be physically patted down and they weren't prepared for it," Melchior said. "I've never seen lines like that."
In London, British Airways said US-bound passengers would undergo additional screening and only be allowed one item of hand luggage.
People taking Christmas or other gifts in their hand luggage would be asked to unwrap them before boarding.
But passengers at London's Heathrow Airport accepted the beefed-up security procedures with good grace.
Mary Lecarpentier, a 45-year-old company owner, who was travelling to New York to celebrate New Year, said: "I'm not worried at all. Sometimes there are delays and you just deal with them but we haven't experienced any."
Britain's interior minister Alan Johnson said the government was looking at introducing full body scanners at airports.
"We intend to be at the cutting edge of all this technology and to ensure that we put it in place as quickly as possible," he told BBC radio.
Authorities in Germany said they were stepping up security, particularly at Frankfurt, Europe's third-biggest hub.
At Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, all hand baggage except women's handbags had to be put in the hold.
In Asia, Singapore Airlines introduced strict new rules for flights to the United States from the busy Asian hub.
"US-bound travellers can expect additional security screening before boarding," Nicholas Ionides, Singapore Airlines spokesman told AFP.
A spokesman for the airport operator Changi Airport Group said: "Changi Airport has implemented since Saturday afternoon... additional security measures for all non-stop flights to the United States."
Airline passengers travelling from Australia to the United States also faced increased searches.
The European Commission in Brussels said it was investigating if proper security measures were followed in Amsterdam, where Abdulmutallab boarded the flight.
Since Al-Qaeda's suicide attacks with hijacked airliners on New York and Washington in September 2001 and an attempted "shoe-bombing" on a flight a few months later, airline security has been increasing.
In 2003, airlines reinforced cockpit doors and in 2006 many countries introduced strict restrictions on liquids allowed in luggage after a plot was uncovered to bomb airliners flying from Britain to North America.
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