WASHINGTON – Some airlines are telling passengers that new security regulations prohibit them from leaving their seats beginning an hour before landing.
Air Canada said in a statement Saturday that new rules imposed by the Transportation Security Administration limit on-board activities by passengers and crew in U.S. airspace.
The airline said that during the final hour of flight passengers must remain seated. They won’t be allowed access to carry-on baggage or to have any items on their laps.
Flight attendants on some domestic flights are informing passengers about similar rules.
Airline passengers across Europe faced body searches and new limits on hand luggage Saturday after U.S. authorities requested tighter security in response to an attempt to bomb an airliner in Detroit.
U.S.-bound travelers were undergoing body searches at Amsterdam’s airport, where authorities say Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab of Nigeria boarded Northwest Airlines Flight 253 and tried to set off an incendiary device as the plane was descending to its destination.
"The extra measures apply worldwide on all flights to the U.S. as of now and for an indefinite period," says Judith Sluiter, spokeswoman for the Dutch National Coordinator for Counterterrorism.
An official briefed on the attack said Saturday the U.S. has known for at least two years that the suspect could have terrorist ties.
The official told The Associated Press that Mutallab has been on a list that includes people with known or suspected contact or ties to a terrorist or terrorist organization. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.
The Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment list is maintained by the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center. It includes about 550,000 names.
People on that list are not necessarily on the no-fly list. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said Mutallab was not on the no-fly list.
King, the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, said no federal air marshals were on the flights from Nigeria to Amsterdam and from Amsterdam to Detroit. Mutallab did not go through full-body image screening at either airport, the congressman said.
Passengers flying to the United States from London’s Heathrow said they received text messages informing them that the hand baggage allowance had been reduced to one item. Airport officials also said security had been heightened.
"We got a text message this morning at about 11 a.m. to say that new rules meant we could only take one piece of hand luggage," said Karen Ward, 44, from Reading, Berkshire. "I think they’ve handled it very well."
Italy’s civil aviation authority, ENAC, said it had tightened security at airports for passengers leaving for the United States, with measures including increased manual body and baggage searches.
The extra measures were requested by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration and will initially remain in place for 72 hours, ENAC said in a statement.
Dutch authorities said the suspect boarded a flight in Lagos for the Amsterdam connection. With flights generally reported on time Friday, the Nigerian would have landed on his KLM Boeing 777 before dawn and had a layover of nearly three hours at Schiphol Airport before the Northwest Airbus A330 lifted off for the nine hour flight to Detroit.
His name was on the passenger manifesto that routinely was forwarded to the U.S. before takeoff, and the list was cleared, Sluiter said. He had a U.S. visa valid for the first half of 2010, but Sluiter did not know what kind of visa he had or where it was issued.
An initial investigation showed that the Amsterdam security professionals conducted all the normal procedures for Flight 253 without irregularities, she said, though it’s always possible that potentially dangerous weapons can elude the standard equipment.
The general alert level at Schipol was not immediately raised after the incident, and security procedures for other flights remained unchanged, Sluiter said.
Schiphol, one of Europe’s busiest airports with a heavy load of transit passengers from Africa and Asia to North America, strictly enforces European security regulations including only allowing small amounts of liquid in hand luggage that must be placed inside clear plastic bags.
The airport has been testing full body scanners for about a year that allow security staff to see the outline of a passenger’s beneath their clothes, and intend to roll out a more complete program next year, said airport spokeswoman Mirjam Snoerwang.
Mutallab’s leg was badly burned after his abortive attempt to cripple the plane, an indication that he had strapped the incendiary device onto his leg. It was unclear, however, when he attached the device or whether the body scanner would have caught it.
European Union Security Commissioner Jacques Barrot said the European Commission is working to ensure all security regulations were followed throughout Europe.
Passengers in Brussels, where the EU is based, were advised to reach the airport three hours before departure to allow time for a second security check at the boarding gate.
A spokeswoman for Germany’s interior ministry said that stepped up security at airports was being considered, but noted the nation already has measures considered among the strictest in the world.
"We still assume a high threat for Germany, but we see no need to change our current security measures at this time," an interior ministry spokeswoman, who did not give her name in line with government policy, told DAPD news agency on Saturday.
Aviation officials throughout the Mideast reported no new restrictions directly connected to the Detroit incident, but said that security was already very high throughout the region.
India, also a target of terrorism in the past, said it was maintaining its normal security measures. "We are in any case alert. I’m not aware of any new steps taken today," said Onkar Kedij, spokesman for India’s Home Ministry.