Tuesday, April 09, 2002

Air security scare delays some flights

By James Pilcher jpilcher@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HEBRON — A weapon that wasn't got one of the busiest days at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport off to a chaotic start Monday, as the local facility got its first real taste of the havoc perceived security breaches can cause.

Passengers line up to go through security after Terminal 3 was shut down because of a potential security breach.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
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        A miscommunication at the passenger screening checkpoint at Delta Air Lines' Terminal 3 over what turned out to be makeup shut down three concourses for about 90 minutes and caused hours of delays and lines that stretched into several floors.

        The lines that normally snake around barricades at the lower level continued up the escalator and into the baggage claim area, although they had returned to normal within two hours after the checkpoints were reopened.

        The shutdown occurred at about 8:45 a.m., when an unidentified female screener thought she saw a knife in a carry-on bag through the X-ray scanner.

        She signaled to another employee to hand-search the bag, but the next worker, who also went unidentified, searched the wrong bag.

        When the mistake was realized, no more passengers were allowed into Terminal

        3, and a ground stop was issued for all departing planes, said Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen.

        Airport police and security officials scoured the terminal, looking for that one bag, finding it at about 10 a.m. It was rescreened, and the suspicious object was still present. When the bag was hand-searched, the item that had triggered the alarm turned out to be makeup wrapped in aluminum foil, according to Ms. Bergen.

        The passenger who owned the bag was allowed to continue on her way and will not face any charges, airport spokesman Ted Bushelman said.

        The delays came at a bad time for Delta, a busy Monday morning as business travelers began their work week. The airline operates its second-largest hub locally, while its Erlanger-based regional subsidiary Comair runs more than half the local flights.

        Delta spokeswoman Kristi Tucker said the shutdown affected 39 flights, although a passenger count was unavailable. She said the schedule had gotten back to normal by midafternoon.

        The incident was the first major security shutdown at the airport since Sept. 11, which created the tightening of airport security nationwide. That crackdown has led to other similar shutdowns at major airports, including Atlanta, New York's LaGuardia, San Francisco and Chicago.

        Parts of the airport have been closed previously, but there have been fewer than five such incidents since last fall's attacks, officials said. Those include an incident last December that forced Comair's Concourse C to be closed for about 30 minutes over what turned out to be coffee creamer.

        Later Monday, at 1 p.m., a security screener remembered seeing some scissors in a carry-on bag that made it through security. Airport police and National Guard personnnel were able to locate the passenger and the bag on Concourse A.

        Passengers standing in line Monday had different outlooks on the delays, ranging from acceptance to annoyance.

        “This is standard operating procedure at other airports, and I'm surprised it hasn't happened here,” said Tom Bratton of West Chester. “It's part of the deal now.”

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