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Reporter's Notebook: Flying with Terror
But when I arrived at London's Heathrow airport at 5 a.m. Thursday for my 7:55 a.m. United Airlines flight to Washington, D.C., the only explanation for the wait was a vague "security alert." I was traveling for a surprise wedding shower for my twin sister, and after being out until 2 a.m., all I was looking forward to was collapsing in the lounge. More than anything I – and many others in the queue with me – felt frustration, not panic. At daybreak, many of us hadn't yet read the paper or watched the news.
I asked about self check-in, and a weary-looking United agent shook her head. Then she told me I had to check all my bags, including my handbag, and I could only take my wallet and my passport on board.
I stared at her in disbelief. "But this isn't meant to be checked," I said, pulling the strap on my handbag. "It'll be destroyed on the luggage carousel."
She shrugged her shoulders and handed me a clear plastic bag. "Security alert," she said. Since when? She told me she'd left at midnight and everything was fine, but that the new measures were in place when she returned at 4:30 a.m.
What I didn't know was that 21 suspects had been arrested in connection with a plot to blow up as many as 10 jets heading to the United States, according to British and U.S. authorities. Not a comforting thought – it was only last summer that four bombers killed 52 people in London.
Check-in took nearly two hours as everyone tried to be the exception to the rule, protesting that this camera was too fragile, or that software was proprietary. All our PDAs, iPods and mobile phones were checked in – as well as all our toiletries. The girl in front of me nearly started to cry: "But my boyfriend is meeting my plane and I haven't seen him in a month and a half. I have to have my makeup!"