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After terrorism threat, SFO pace near normal

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San Francisco International Airport resumed something close to its normal rhythm Friday after Thursday’s terrorist threat caused delays and confusion at security checkpoints.

Waits at security checkpoints, which averaged 17 minutes Thursday and exceeded an hour at peak points, had shrunk back to an average of six to eight minutes, airport duty manager Dan D’Innocente said Friday. Concessions, which reported a drop in sales Thursday, reported a return to normal sales levels.

Confusion reigned at the airport Thursday after British authorities announced the arrest of 24 suspects in a plot to blow up airliners heading from London’s Heathrow airport to cities in the U.S., including cities in California.

The terrorists allegedly planned to use liquid explosives carried in drink containers, which caused authorities to ban passengers from bringing liquids onto commercial flights.

The difference in the airport’s operation is “like night and day,” D’Innocente said. He gestured to a security checkpoint where seemingly well-trained passengers quickly moved past screeners. “Imagine this area so backed up you can’t even move,” he said about the small security area Thursday, when the threat level at SFO was the highest since the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

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About 4,000 more passengers moved through the airport Friday than Thursday, D’Innocente said.

D’Innocente said passengers learned quickly that they couldn’t bring liquids through the security checkpoints, and that few today have been caught by surprise, as they were when the ban was quickly instated Thursday.

Paul Levine, a Yahoo employee leaving for a vacation in Chicago and continuing to Atlanta for work, said his co-workers told him about the new regulations because they knew he’d be flying. He said he appreciated the need for security, but questioned the effectiveness of the ban.

“I don’t know if it’s any more dangerous to carry hair gel today than it was yesterday,” he said.

D’Innocente said the airport has increased its on-duty security personnel by about 10 percent since the announcement of the arrest. Transportation Security Administration contractors operate passenger checkpoints, San Francisco police officers, including canine units, are roaming the airport, the California National Guard is patrolling the perimeter and San Francisco Fire Department boats are in the Bay, he said.

The operation is running more smoothly than Thursday, D’Innocente said. “Because we’re 24 hours into it and not 12, we’ve been able to plan and be ready.”

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