The passengers still clutched the plastic bags given to them at Heathrow for their wallets and passports. Some had been reunited with their luggage, which they had hastily repacked upon arriving to Heathrow early in the morning. All carry-ons, including magazines and house keys, were banned from British flights until further notice.
Many of these passengers were remarkably good-natured. Considering other U.S.-bound flights from London were either cancelled or severely delayed, they were lucky to land at Dulles at 12:55 p.m. less than two hours behind schedule.
Because their flight was so early in the morning, they had avoided the congestion and delays that would soon ensnarl Heathrow Airport. They'd also had little idea of what was actually going on.
Rhonda Biskup, who lives in the Baltimore suburbs, was one such passenger. She had arrived at Heathrow at 6 a.m. and found security officers patrolling the airport with machine guns. In addition to long lines, Biskup was twice subjected to full frisking. "No one knew what was going on, even employees," she said. "At London, they just told me it was all 'enhanced security procedures.'"
Only when she arrived at the gate and saw breaking-news headlines on TV, did Biskup learn of the terror threat. "You're getting on the plane and you could see that this was going on but what could you do?" she said.
By then, it was too late for her to back out. Flight policy mandated that once a passenger checked her bags, she must board the flight. Without any cell phone or way to contact family members, Biskup got on the plane with her friend, both of them a bit nervous. "We were thinking, 'Is this a terrorist threat against the U.S. or the U.K.?" Biskup recalled. "How many flights were there between the U.S. and U.K.? Is there a chance that something could have slipped by, even with the extra security?"
Once it took off, the seven-and-a-half-hour plane ride did go smoothly. There was even some comedy aboard. "When the flight attendant said to turn off electronic devices, people were laughing hysterically because nobody had anything," said Nancy Bort of Arlington, Va. Bort seemed unfazed, despite having been on a flight dubbed "red" by the Department of Homeland Security. "After seeing what's going on in the world in general, I don't know how you can worry about this," she said later in a phone interview. "I still think I have a greater chance of being hurt in a car accident than getting killed by a terrorist. I just don't think you could worry about this on a daily basis."
Meanwhile, passengers arriving at Kennedy International Airport in New York City on Thursday faced longer waits and frustrating requests to rearrange their luggage. However, most felt it was a necessary step to ensure safety and were willing to go along with the new measures banning liquid items from being carried aboard airlines.
People preparing for departing flights at the JetBlue airlines terminal were met by airline officials instructing them that items like hair gels, aerosol cans and even lipstick must be placed into their check-in luggage, prompting longer waits in the normally quick midday lines, and forcing several people to step into uncrowded areas to open their suitcases and place their personal items inside, as well as consume or dump any beverages they had planned to bring onto their flights.
"In general I am glad they are doing this," said Kirstin Farleo, 36, who was returning to Buffalo, N.Y. "I understand why they are doing it, but it is sort of an inconvenience because all these things were in my carry-on, now I have to repack. I hope they keep it up, but it is a big pain."
Officials with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said passengers were facing waits as long as 45 minutes and more as the evening rush approached. Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the organization, said JetBlue, Kennedy's largest domestic carrier, was even holding up flights because of the longer lines.
Blanca Farber, 34, who was preparing for a flight from New York to Los Angeles, was also inconvenienced by the longer wait, but didn't mind the new measure. "We all want to be sure we are safe when we fly. I fly a lot and I want to be sure I get where I am going safely every single time."