Queues, searches and fresh security checks

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The scenario was terrifying, a series of airliners, packed with passengers, being blasted out of the sky.

The immediate effect for thousands of people when the attempted attack was discovered, at the height of the August holiday season, was the overnight introduction of tough baggage restrictions, hundreds of cancelled flights and endless delays and queues at airports.

That has eased over the months and years, but we have had to become accustomed to the legacy of much tighter restrictions and the concept of flying now being akin to a security operation; of passengers being regarded as potential terrorists.

Air travel continues. But if the aim of the terrorists was to disrupt the way of life of a society it was targeting then they have succeeded to a large extent.

The home-grown British Muslims who plotted to kill were not the first to think of such a lethal operation and there is no reason why they should be the last.

In January 1995, police in the Philippines capital, Manila, uncovered an attempt to blow up 12 American airliners mid-air with liquid nitroglycerin hidden in contact lens bottles, a Casio watch as a timer and batteries and a detonator hidden in shoes. The plot leader was Ramzi Yousef, now serving a life sentence, having been convicted of conspiring to destroy the World Trade Centre.

Investigators found a trail between Yousef's operation, codenamed "Bojinka", and that which came to fruition on 11 September 2001. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the architect of the attack on New York and an associate of Yousef, decided to modify the plans because he felt that trying to smuggle bombs on to an airliner was too risky.

Despite all the warning signs triggered by Yousef, the authorities in the West did not bring in security measures to counter such an attack. This was partly because that particular attempt, deadly though it was, had taken place at the other side of the world, and also because governments were loathe to antagonise the powerful airline lobby and face the protest of passengers.

When the government in this country finally had to bring in new regulation, in the aftermath of the discovery of the alleged plot, there was total chaos.

Flights were aborted and airport staff were unable to tell passengers what exactly was going on. Some relaxation of luggage restrictions followed, but this, too, took place in a haphazard and arbitrary fashion with different countries, and even airports within the same country, adopting differing rules. Passengers from Britain were restricted to one piece of hand luggage when they left the country, but there were no such limits on the way back.

Air travellers have also had to adapt to a stringent regime with lengthy lines for security checks, which include shoes and jackets having to be taken off and restrictions on liquid being carried aboard aircraft.

As the news of the alleged plot broke, questions were asked. Was it also the end of cheap flights? In the aftermath of the discovery of the plot, easyJet cancelled more than 500 flights in four days and Ryanair grounded a fifth of all scheduled departures.

Cheap flights are, of course, still with us. Despite the additional hindrance people seem determined to keep flying and the airliners have passed on some of the additional cost to the passengers.