U.S., EU set meeting on airline security, electronic devices

FILE PHOTO - A TSA worker loads suitcases at the checked luggage security screening station at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, California, U.S. on September 7, 2011. REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn/File Photo

By David Shepardson and Julia Fioretti

WASHINGTON/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – U.S. and European officials will discuss airline security issues at a meeting in Brussels next week, including possibly expanding the number of airports that ban passengers from carrying electronic devices bigger than cellphones aboard flights, a European Commission spokeswoman said on Friday.

U.S. Homeland Security Department Secretary John Kelly told European ministers by phone Friday the department does not plan to immediately unveil any new measures, the EU said.

U.S. Homeland Security spokesman David Lapan said no final decision had been made on whether to expand the restrictions and he declined to immediately confirm Kelly’s trip to Brussels.

“The U.S. and the EU are on the same side when it comes to fighting terrorism and protecting our security,” Dimitris Avramopoulos, EU commissioner for migration, home affairs and citizenship, said in a statement.

“Our phone call today proved once again the strong cooperation we have on these matters. I look forward to welcoming Mr Kelly and his experts in Brussels next week to continue our positive talks.”

Fears that a bomb could be concealed in electronic devices prompted the United States to announce in March that it would restrict passengers from bringing laptops onto flights originating from 10 airports, including those in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. Britain followed suit with restrictions on a slightly different set of routes.

Airlines and several countries affected by the electronics ban have pushed for more consultation with American and British regulators after the abrupt introduction of the restrictions took the industry by surprise.

U.S. and European carriers are concerned about the logistics of checking large numbers of devices. Some airline officials say they would need to hire more staff to impose additional curbs, and are worried about how much advance notice they would have.

On Wednesday, Reuters reported that the Trump administration is likely to include some European countries in the in-cabin electronics ban.

Some U.S. and European airlines have been planning for a wider ban, industry officials have told Reuters.

European regulators have warned that placing hundreds of devices in the hold on long-haul flights could also compromise safety by increasing the risk of fire from poorly deactivated lithium-ion batteries.

Kelly briefed members of Congress Thursday and held a meeting with high-level executives of Delta Air Lines <DAL.N>, United Airlines <UAL.N>, American Airlines Group Inc <AAL.O> and Airlines For America, a trade group. A congressional official said Homeland Security was likely to expand the ban soon, but did not say when or to what airports.

The airlines declined to comment, but an airline official said government officials suggested an expansion of the ban was expected soon but it wasn’t certain when.

The trade group said in a statement it appreciated the meeting “to discuss the current state of aviation security.”

The group voted to work with government officials to “minimize the impact on the traveling public by utilizing the risk-based solutions that are the core of our foundation as the safest aviation system in the world.”

In 2016, 30 million people flew to the United States from Europe, according to U.S. Transportation Department data.

According to airports association ACI Europe, summer schedules for 2017 at airports in 28 European Union countries show there are 3,257 flights per week to the United States.

Kelly said last month the ban was likely to expand, given the sophisticated threats in aviation and intelligence findings that would-be attackers were trying to hide explosives in electronic devices.

The predicament is reminiscent of the aviation industry’s response to the 2014 downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17.

At the time, airlines called for greater sharing of information about potential threats to commercial aircraft from conflict zones, even as intelligence agencies expressed reluctance over the risk of revealing sources.

Kelly was scheduled to meet President Donald Trump on Friday but a DHS official said the meeting was about a different topic.

(Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington; Additional reporting by Julia C. Fioretti in Brussels, Victoria Bryan in Berlin and Tim Hepher in Paris; Editing by David Gregorio and Bernadette Baum)

Passengers walk through JFK checkpoint without being screened: NBC

(Reuters) – Eleven passengers walked through a security checkpoint without being screened before apparently boarding planes at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on Monday, national media reported.

The breaches occurred at about 6 a.m. local time at a checkpoint lane that was not fully staffed, NBC News reported.

The passengers’ carry-on bags were screened and cleared by a security team with sniffer dogs, Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) sources told the broadcaster.

Three of the passengers set off metal detectors but were permitted to continue to their boarding gates without being body searched by staff, the broadcaster said.

U.S. authorities beefed up security at airports in 2001 following the 9/11 attacks.

A debate over whether it should be tightened further has been given impetus by a deadly shooting in January in a Florida airport baggage claim area, and attempts by President Donald Trump to clamp down on immigration from some Muslim-majority countries.

The Port Authority said three passengers were screened after they got off their flight when it landed in California.

It did not say if they were the people who had also set off the metal detectors, and gave no information about the identities or flight schedules of the other eight passengers.

The TSA said it was confident the incident presented “minimal risk to the aviation transportation system,” NBC News reported.

TSA and port authority officials were not immediately available for further comment.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien; editing by John Stonestreet)

July Fourth travelers face tougher U.S. security after Turkey attack

Members of the U.S. Army monitor the departures area at John F. Kennedy international Airport in the Queens borough of New

By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Millions of U.S. travelers flying during the busy Fourth of July holiday weekend will face heightened security and increased delays due to the deadly attacks at Istanbul’s main airport, officials and air security experts said on Wednesday.

Airport officials were hesitant to reveal specific safety measures taken following Tuesday’s attacks by suspected Islamic State militants, which killed 41 people and wounded 239 at Europe’s third-busiest airport, but increased vigilance appeared to have resulted in at least one airport disruption.

A terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York was briefly evacuated on Wednesday morning while police investigated a report of a suspicious package.

The implementation of stricter security measures will likely increase travel time this weekend, air security experts said, even as the Transportation Security Administration continues to struggle amid personnel shortages.

“If you are in a ‘marquee’ airport, you should absolutely allow significantly more time, on the order of 30 to 45 minutes,” said Bruce McIndoe, the chief executive officer of travel risk advisory company iJet International.

Authorities can “dial up” various security elements, from increasing the frequency of “random” passengers selected for extra screening to turning up the sensitivity of magnetometer devices, according to McIndoe.

Following the Istanbul attacks, which took place outside security checkpoints, U.S. airports are likely to focus on surveillance and armed personnel in similar public spaces not subject to screening, McIndoe said.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which oversees operations at the three major airports in the New York City area, said in a statement that police had added “high visibility patrols with tactical weapons and equipment.”

The agency said it had already put in place counterterrorism patrols at various transportation hubs following the mass shooting in Orlando earlier this month.

Agencies in charge of other major airports, including Reagan and Dulles in the Washington, D.C. area, Logan in Boston, O’Hare in Chicago, Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta and Dallas/Fort Worth, declined to offer operational details but emphasized that security remains their top priority.

“Logan maintains an enhanced security posture,” said an spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Port Authority. “There are many elements that are seen and unseen.”

The security measures are not limited to airports. New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton told reporters on Wednesday that there will be more officers, including a counterterrorism unit, present at the city’s July 4th celebrations.

Meanwhile, Amtrak said it had “robust security measures” in place and was working with other agencies to gather intelligence following the Istanbul attacks.

A record number of Americans, 43 million, are expected to travel between June 30 and July 4, according to AAA.

The vast majority will go by car, AAA said, but 3.3 million are expected to fly. That is more than 25 percent higher that the 2.6 million AAA projected to fly during Memorial Day weekend in May, after months of widespread complaints about long security lines.

The attacks in Istanbul, as well as bombings at Brussels’ airport that also struck outside checkpoints, have reignited debate over whether airport screening should extend into public spaces, despite the increased inconvenience and questions about the effectiveness of such a move.

But McIndoe said those proposals lead to an “infinite loop” that has no solution; checking vehicles before they enter the airport, for instance, simply forces cars to queue up, creating a new target.

Despite the spectacular massacres, he added, the chance of dying in an attack while traveling by plane is infinitesimal, given the more than 3 billion passengers that fly each year.

“You’re tens of thousands of times more likely to die in an automobile accident,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Gina Cherelus and Laila Kearney in New York, Ian Simpson in Washington, D.C., and Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Editing by Tom Brown)

Lighten up at airport security lines, U.S. judge tells travelers

A Transportation Safety Administration agent looks over a line of passengers at San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) – It is the job of airport security screeners to stop terrorists, not to referee disputes between passengers waiting on line, a U.S. magistrate judge has ruled, in dismissing a lawsuit brought by an unhappy traveler.

Judge Howard Lloyd issued the decision late on Tuesday, in a year when thousands of waiting passengers have missed flights because of tighter security requirements and staff shortages at the U.S. Transportation Security Administration.

Justin Ngo, of Sunnyvale, California, filed his lawsuit in nearby San Jose, after TSA agents refused to detain a family waiting behind him at a checkpoint at Honolulu International Airport in February 2014.

In his complaint against the TSA, the airport and officials, Ngo said a mother and her children kept hitting his luggage while playing, ignoring his requests to stop, while the father repeatedly kicked the luggage and told him to “Lighten up!”

He said he suffered emotional distress and that the TSA was negligent and an accomplice to assault and harassment.

But the judge said Congress created the TSA soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to combat terrorism and prevent “mass murder” in the skies, not mediate disputes between careless or impatient passengers on line.

“When Ngo entered the security checkpoint, the TSA was a gatekeeper obliged to determine whether he should be permitted to pass,” Lloyd wrote. “The TSA had no duty to detain a family at his command.”

Ngo, who represented himself in the lawsuit, had no immediate comment on Wednesday.

The case is Ngo v. Transportation Security Administration et al, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 16-00481.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Howard Goller)

U.S. airport security improves since screening lapses

Travelers stand in line to go through Transportation Security Administration (TSA) check-points at Los

(Reuters) – The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is working to improve airport screening after major lapses last year, a U.S. government investigator said on Tuesday, adding that the agency has embraced oversight.

“As a result of our audit reports … TSA is now, for the first time in memory, critically assessing its deficiencies in an honest and objective light,” said John Roth, inspector general of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the TSA’s parent agency. “We are generally satisfied with the response we have seen at TSA.”

“We went from a cultural situation where we were fought at every turn to one in which they now embrace oversight in a way that I think is … positive,” he added, in testimony before a U.S. Senate committee.

In a covert audit, department staff succeeded in bringing banned items through airport checkpoints and raised concerns about the TSA’s vetting of its workforce.

The TSA has cut back on directing travelers into faster lanes that let them keep shoes on and laptops packed. That change along with low staffing levels and more flyers had sparked long lines this spring.

Roth, in testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security &amp; Governmental Affairs, said the TSA has come up with nearly two dozen ways to improve procedures.

“Over the past 11 months, we have undertaken a systematic and deliberate transformation of TSA,” Administrator Peter Neffenger, who took the TSA top job after the lapses, said at the hearing.

Neffenger said the TSA has retrained staff and is vetting employees daily.

In addition, he said TSA is working with about a dozen airports to increasingly automate screening and create a “true curb-to-gate security environment, as opposed to just focusing it all around that checkpoint.”

Delta Air Lines Inc and Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world’s busiest, opened two lines last month that automate the distribution of bins for carry-on bags at checkpoints, to avoid screening bottlenecks.

Neffenger said the lanes have improved efficiency at the checkpoints by 30 percent.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Dastin in New York and Julia Edwards in Washington; Editing by Bill Rigby and Jeffrey Benkoe)

U.S. security union wants more screeners to ease airport delays

Passengers make their way through a terminal at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois

By Suzannah Gonzales

CHICAGO (Reuters) – The union for transportation security officers on Tuesday urged the U.S. Congress to pay for 6,000 more full-time workers who conduct screenings to alleviate long lines at U.S. airports, a problem that caused a shakeup in the U.S. Transportation Security Administration’s management.

The American Federation of Government Employees, the officers’ union, asked lawmakers to approve emergency legislation to fund additional screeners needed after years of staffing cuts and growing numbers of passengers, it said in a statement.

“It’s time for Congress to stop the waiting games and give TSA the resources it needs to meet growing demands at our nation’s airports,” J. David Cox Sr., the union’s national president, said in the statement.

Long security lines at U.S. airports this spring have frustrated travelers and caused thousands of passengers to miss flights. The TSA has blamed the problem on a lack of security screeners and an increase in passengers.

In a letter last week to the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, 22 Democratic senators and one independent also asked for more TSA funding to help address long wait times.

Republican U.S. Representative John Katko, chairman of a House transportation security subcommittee, called on the Senate to act on his TSA PreCheck proposal, which would streamline screening for low-risk passengers who undergo an assessment.

The TSA’s head of security was removed from his position after the agency was criticized for long lines at airport security checkpoints.

Kelly Hoggan, who had been TSA assistant administrator for security operations since May 2013, was replaced by his deputy, Darby LaJoye, on an interim basis, according to an internal memo from agency head Peter Neffenger.

The TSA has about 42,000 officers, down from 47,000 in 2013, the union’s statement said.

Meanwhile, the volume of passengers has increased 15 percent to 740 million currently and is projected to exceed 800 million this year, the union said, citing federal data.

Neffenger told a news conference on Friday that his agency was accelerating plans to add security staff and bomb-sniffing dogs at Chicago’s two major airports after a “breakdown” that included not having enough checkpoint lanes open.

(Reporting by Suzannah Gonzales; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Lisa Von Ahn)

U.S. Senate Boosts Travel Security

Passengers make their way in a security checkpoint at the International JFK airport in New York

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republicans and Democrats in the Senate reached a deal on Thursday to boost travel security at airports in the aftermath of the Brussels attacks, according to a source familiar with the matter.

Under the deal, the source said, lawmakers agreed to amend a Federal Aviation Administration bill with provisions that would bolster the vetting of airport employees with access to secure areas and authorize the Transportation Security Administration to donate security equipment to foreign airports with direct flights to the United States.

The provisions would also order a new U.S. assessment of foreign cargo security programs, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

Lawmakers and their aides were continuing to negotiate over other security items that could also be added, including federal grant money for training state and local law enforcement to respond to emergencies involving armed attacks, the source said.

The deal is being brokered by Senator John Thune of South Dakota, Republican chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, and the panel’s top Democrat, Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, the source said.

In coming days, the Senate is expected to vote on the FAA authorization bill, which would renew the aviation agency’s programs through September 2017.

The House of Representatives has been considering its own FAA legislation. That bill also calls for the privatization of the U.S. air traffic control system, a measure that is not in the Senate’s legislation.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Brussels attacks stir debate about global airport security

BERLIN/PARIS (Reuters) – Twin explosions in the departure hall of Brussels Airport prompted several countries worldwide to review or tighten airport security on Tuesday and raised questions about how soon passengers should be screened when entering terminals.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for bomb attacks on Brussels airport and a rush-hour metro train which killed at least 30 people.

Prosecutors said the blasts at Zaventem airport, which serves more than 23 million passengers a year, were believed to be caused by suicide bombers.

Authorities responded by stepping up the number of police on patrol at airports in London, Paris and Frankfurt and at other transport hubs as Brussels rail services were also halted. Airlines scrambled to divert flights as Brussels airport announced it would close through Wednesday.

In the United States, the country’s largest cities were placed on high alert and the National Guard was called in to increase security at New York City’s two airports.

The Obama administration was expected to announce new measures to tighten U.S. airport security.

A United Nations agency is already due to review airport security following the downing of a Russian airliner in Egypt by a makeshift soda-can bomb in October last year. Islamic State has claimed responsibility for smuggling the bomb on board.

Other recent incidents have also raised questions about how planes are protected. Last month, a bomber brought a device onto an airliner in Somalia and blew a hole in the fuselage. A year ago, a disturbed pilot deliberately crashed a Germanwings airliner killing 150 people, exploiting anti-terrorist cockpit defenses to lock himself at the controls.

But there has been less attention focused on how airports themselves are secured, before passengers check in for flights, despite a number of attacks.

“It strikes me as strange that only half of the airport is secure. Surely the whole airport should be secure, from the minute you arrive in the car park,” said Matthew Finn, managing director of independent aviation security consultants Augmentiq.

In 2011, a suicide bomber struck the arrival hall at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport, killing 37 people. In 2013, a shooter killed a U.S. government Transportation Security Administration officer at Los Angeles international airport. Another gunman killed two there in 2002.

The last major incident at a western European airport was in 2007, when two people tried to drive a jeep packed with propane canisters into the terminal at Glasgow Airport in Scotland. One of the attackers died.

Several airports afterwards stepped up security for cars, but entrances have largely remained open for those on foot.

CHECKPOINTS

European countries reviewed overall security at public locations after November’s attacks by bombers and gunmen in Paris, in which 130 people were killed and hundreds injured, but made no specific changes to airport security.

“Certainly after Paris, there was no significant change to the threat assessment here… We’ll see what happens today,” Robin Hayes, CEO of JetBlue Airways Corp, in an interview on sidelines of an aviation summit in Washington.

The relative openness of public airport areas in Western Europe contrasts with some in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, where travelers’ documents and belongings are checked before they are allowed to enter the airport building.

In Turkey, passengers and bags are screened on entering the terminal and again after check-in. Moscow also checks people at terminal entrances.

“Two terrorists who enter the terminal area with explosive devices, this is undoubtedly a colossal failure,” Pini Schiff, the former security chief at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Airport and currently the CEO of the Israel Security Association, said in an interview with Israel Radio.

Ben Gurion Airport is known for its tough security, including passenger profiling to identify those viewed as suspicious, bomb sniffing devices and questioning of each individual traveler.

In the Kenyan capital Nairobi, where authorities are on high alert for attacks by Somali-based al Shabaab militants, passengers have to get out of their cars, which are then searched, at a checkpoint a kilometer from the main terminal.

In Nairobi and other airports such as the Philippines capital Manila, passengers also have to present their passports and have bags X-rayed to gain entry to terminal buildings.

“I find that checks in front of buildings, such as those at government buildings in the United States, would be 100 percent fine,” said Ralf Leukers, a passenger at Frankfurt airport.

“If you don’t have anything to hide, then you should be happy to have your bags searched.”

But such checks could create upheaval at terminals and rely on security staff paying close attention.

“Any movement of the security ‘comb’ to the public entrance of a terminal building would cause congestion, inconvenience and flight delays, while the inevitable resulting queues would themselves present an attractive target,” said Ben Vogel, Editor, IHS Jane’s Airport Review.

A group representing Europe’s airports said kerbside screening would “be moving the target rather than securing it”.

Augmentiq’s Finn said governments should share more intelligence information and make greater use of modern technology that allows for discreet screening of passengers as they pass through gates or revolving doors.

“This is not unique to Brussels; this is a global phenomenon. We have got to effect the right kind of change, otherwise we will be scratching our heads over why the same questions are being posed and not being answered,” he said.

But adding pre-terminal screening and other measures at airports would be costly.

“I don’t see it happening anytime soon,” said Daniel Wagner, CEO of Country Risk Solutions, a security consulting firm in Connecticut in the United States. “There’s no sense of urgency and not enough money devoted to the problem.”

(Additional reporting by Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago, Ori Lewis in Jerusalem, Sarah Young in London, Clara Ferreira Marques in Mumbai, Mark Hosenball and Jeffrey Dastin in Washington and Alwyn Scott in New York; Editing by Timothy Heritage and Peter Graff)

TSA discovers record number of firearms in carry-on bags

Nearly 2,200 people attempted to bring loaded firearms through airport security checkpoints in the United States last year, the Transportation Security Administration announced Thursday.

The discoveries were part of a record number of firearms that TSA officials found in carry-on bags at airport checkpoints across the country, the administration said in its year-end report.

The TSA said it found an all-time high of 2,653 firearms in carry-on bags in 2015, and 2,198 of those weapons were loaded. The number of loaded firearms discovered almost equals the 2,212 loaded and unloaded firearms that TSA officers found in 2014, the former record number.

Travelers aren’t allowed to pack weapons in carry-on bags, but the TSA reports seeing a significant rise in the number of firearms it finds while screening the bags at checkpoints.

Officers found just 660 firearms in 2005, yet that has more than quadrupled in the years since. There was a 20 percent increase in the number of firearms discovered between 2014 and 2015.

TSA Administrator Peter V. Neffenger issued a statement on the discoveries, saying better training has helped officers become “more adept at intercepting these prohibited items.”

The statement didn’t address if there were any other potential factors for the increase, such as a possible rise in the number of people who were trying to fly with weapons in their carry-on bags.

Travelers can transport firearms in their checked bags, the TSA says, but the guns must be unloaded and properly packed. Travelers also must inform the airline that the luggage contains a firearm.

Still, the TSA said it’s finding the firearms in carry-ons at more airports — 236 last year, up 12 from 2014.

TSA officers at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport found more firearms in carry-on bags than their counterparts at any other airport, the TSA said, with 153 discoveries in total. Officers at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (144) and Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport (100) each recorded 100 or more discoveries.

Denver International Airport (90), Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (73), Nashville International Airport (59), Seattle-Tacoma International (59), Dallas Love Field Airport (57), Austin-Bergstrom International (54) and William P. Hobby Airport (52) rounded out the top 10, the TSA reported. Five of the top 10 airports with the most firearm discoveries are located in Texas.

The discoveries came the same year amid a troubling year for the TSA.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson removed the administration’s former acting administrator, Melvin Carraway, from his post in June after the Inspector General’s office conducted tests in which auditors tried to bring prohibited items through security checkpoints.

Inspector General John Roth testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in November, saying the results of their most recent tests yielded “disappointing and troubling” results.

“Our testing was designed to test checkpoint operations in real world conditions. It was not designed to test specific, discrete segments of checkpoint operations, but rather the system as a whole,” Roth told the committee. “The failures included failures in the technology, failures in TSA procedures, and human error. We found layers of security simply missing.”

Johnson issued a variety of new directives after receiving the preliminary test results in an effort to boost airport security and correct some of the shortcomings the auditors identified.

Department of Homeland Security to Step Up Airport Security in Wake of Russian Plane Crash

The Department of Homeland Security is ramping up airport security following the suspected bombing of a Russian plane over Egypt. The new security focuses on certain overseas airports.

As Egyptian authorities investigate whether an airport insider may have planted a bomb on the doomed airliner, U.S. lawmakers and aviation officials are raising questions about security at American airports. They say dozens of current airport employees are being screened for possible ties to or sympathies with extremist groups.

According to news reports, surveillance video at the Sharm el-Sheikh airport is being scrutinized for someone with access to the plane on the airport ramp. While no official determination has been made, U.S. and U.K. officials have said they believe it’s likely a bomb brought down the flight last Saturday, killing more than 200 people.

With the recent congressional reports and hearing on airline security due to an undercover operation revealing that the TSA failed 95% of the time when detecting fake explosives, new action is being called into place.

“It’s no secret that people interested in harming America are coming up with creative ways to circumvent the existing security measures,” House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said at the hearing.

In airports both here and abroad extra attention will be paid to bags, including extra scrutiny of the list of passenger names to make sure they match the name on all the checked baggage.

Security will focus on airport workers who are poorly paid and could be susceptible to terrorists bribes.