Newark airport baggage scare provides tense start to busy holiday travel week
Published: Tuesday, December 21, 2010, 7:00 AM Updated: Tuesday, December 21, 2010, 7:41 AM
By Steve Strunsky/The Star-Ledger
ED MURRAY/THE STAR-LEDGERPolice respond to a report of suspicious baggage at Terminal A of Newark Airport today.
NEWARK — The Christmas travel week got off to a tense start at Newark Liberty International Airport Monday morning when a piece of checked baggage triggered a positive reading for explosives, causing a partial shutdown of Terminal A for nearly two hours.
The package turned out to be a computer monitor and there was never any danger, authorities said.
Days before the first anniversary of the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner that prompted a nationwide roll-out of full body scanners and other security measures, passengers at Newark Liberty seemed anything but alarmed by the incident. And while experts concede the Christmas and New Year’s holidays may increase the chances of a terror attack, they also said enhanced security measures, visible or otherwise, are likely to offset any increased risk.
“There’s a commensurate increase in security consciousness among the people who provide that security,” said Phillip J. Murray, a security consultant based in Charlotte, N.C.
• Newark airport terminal closes for 2 hours following security scare caused by computer monitor
• Newark Liberty International Airport Terminal A reopens after suspicious package turns out to be false alarm
Monday’s incident began shortly after 6 a.m. when the checked bag triggered a positive reading from an explosive trace detector, said Ron Marsico, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the airport. As a result, one of the three security checkpoints inside Terminal A was shut down, Marsico said.
Sarah Horowitz, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration, said screeners called in the Port Authority police bomb squad, which cleared the bag and restored the terminal to normal operations two hours later.
The package turned out to be a computer monitor that was being shipped to the same destination as its owner who was already in flight, authorities said.
Traces of substances used in explosives, though not dangerous themselves, can trigger positive readings. Computer monitors normally emit small amounts of radiation, FBI agent Bryan Travers said.
Before the situation was resolved, police blocked the front entrance to Terminal A, forcing some fliers to wait outside.
Despite the heavy police presence, Walter Schubert, a 54-year-old management consultant from Mendham, was the picture of calm as he waited for a flight to Las Vegas to see his sister.
“It’s Christmas season and no doubt the terrorists – whoever they are – are going to be trying somehow to make our lives miserable, one way or another,” Schubert said. “How does it effect my life? I get up a little bit earlier, and I get to the airport a little bit earlier. And I expect lines. I came in with that attitude, and have my iPod, listen to music and take it all in. I expect it as part of the holiday gauntlet.”
Airline industry officials said there is evidence to suggest confidence in airline security is up. For example, the Air Transport Association, the main industry group, is forecasting a 3 percent increase in the number of air travelers this holiday season, which runs through Jan. 3.
“I think you could arguably say that people are comfortable,” said Tim Smith, an American Airlines spokesman. “Certainly, I think full airplanes and increased travel on many routes is indicative of confidence.”
Still, the TSA said airport security would be bolstered over the holidays, as it is every year.
“TSA will deploy risk-based security measures based on the latest intelligence and continue to work with our international, federal, state, local and private sector partners across the nation to protect the American people,” the agency said in a statement. “Security measures will be both seen and unseen…”
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