Airports including London Heathrow, Europe’s busiest, stepped up security checks with unspecified measures in response to U.S. warnings amid concern that a new generation of bombs could evade existing scans.
A number of overseas airports with direct flights to the U.S. have been asked by the Transportation Security Administration to implement enhanced security checks in coming days, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said in a statement last night. U.K. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the threat could prove to be a long-term one.
Scrutiny is being heightened as the spiraling conflict in the Middle East prompts an increased flow of western jihadists. Newspapers including the London-based Times cited U.S. officials and security sources as saying the latest threat concerns an alliance of al-Qaeda-inspired terrorists in Syria and Yemen equipped with hard-to-detect “stealth” bombs.
“We have taken the decision to step up some of our aviation security measures,” the U.K. Department for Transport said in a statement today. “For obvious reasons we will not be commenting in detail on those changes.”
British Airways, the biggest carrier at London Heathrow with almost 800 weekly services to and from 24 U.S. airports, said that while it’s operating as normal the tighter checks mean travelers must arrive in good time for flights both at check-in booths and boarding gates. The airline works closely with airports and governments around to world on safety and security issues, it said in an e-mailed statement.
Discount carrier Norwegian Air Shuttle AS, which started flying from London Gatwick airport to the U.S. this week, is aware of the security situation, Chief Executive Officer Bjoern Kjos said in an interview. The carrier commenced Gatwick-Los Angeles services yesterday and added New York flights today, with trips to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, following tomorrow.
British Prime Minister David Cameron’s office said people should continue to fly as usual, and that while there is “an evolving threat to the U.K. and to other countries,” the official threat level has not been raised from “substantial.”
That’s the third rung in a five-grade system and indicates that there is “a strong possibility” of an attack, according the website of the U.K. Security Service or MI5.
The British Foreign Office warned of “a general threat from terrorism” on its website, adding: “Travelers on direct flights to the U.S. should allow extra time for extended screenings and luggage checks at their airport of departure.”
Passengers should not experience significant disruption from the extra checks, according to the DfT. Steps could include measures aimed at finding non-metallic explosive devices able to evade detection by current equipment.
Heathrow Airport Ltd. said it doesn’t comment on security measures and that security levels are a matter for the DfT.
Travelers will probably have to endure “another layer” of security for some time, Deputy Prime Minister Clegg said on London’s LBC Radio, adding: “I don’t think we should expect this to be a one off temporary thing.”