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Terror scare prompts changes in flights' final hour

At Terminal 4, JFK International Airport, security officers

At Terminal 4, JFK International Airport, security officers checked the boarding passes of passengers departing on flights. (December 26, 20090 Credit: Freelance/Daniel Goodrich

For now, know them as the rules of the flight's final hour.

New anti-terror measures for international flights to the United States can mean dictums for passengers to stay in their seats, a ban on having any personal belongings or other objects on their laps, and no access to overhead bins for carry-on items - all in the final hour before arrival.

The Transportation Security Administration yesterday acknowledged issuing a directive for more security measures and said that passengers flying into the United States can expect to see more pat-downs and screenings at international airports and restrictions during flights. Spokesmen for the agency, however, would not comment specifically on the matter.

Air Canada and other airlines quickly imposed in-flight and other restrictions, issued recommendations for passengers to arrive early to account for searches of their person and baggage, and warned of the possibility of delayed and canceled flights.

In a travel advisory, Air Canada specifically cited new TSA rules as limiting onboard activities of both passengers and crew. In addition, many airlines are limiting carry-on baggage to one item.

Douglas Marsh, 50, of London, who arrived at Kennedy Airport in midafternoon Saturday with his wife and three children on a flight from Heathrow Airport, complained about having to remain seated and store all his belongings in the last 60 minutes of the seven-hour trip.

"We weren't allowed to have newspapers, books, anything, not even have a blanket," he said.

While the TSA's directive did not appear to apply to domestic flights, attendants on at least one such flight - from New York to Tampa yesterday morning - told passengers they must remain in their seats and could not have items on their laps, including laptops and pillows.

The heightened security made for lengthier flight check-ins and boarding and led to some flight delays.

The departure of Virgin Atlantic Flight VS003 from London to Kennedy Airport was delayed for about two hours as nearly 300 passengers underwent a second security check at the gate at Heathrow, passengers said.

Once aboard the plane, passengers were told there would be no in-flight movie and no moving about the cabin for one hour before landing at 2:23 p.m.

Dale Sanders, 45, and his wife Debbie, 50, who were traveling from Bristol, England, on vacation, welcomed the extra steps in light of Friday's Northwest Airlines incident in which a man from Nigeria was apprehended after allegedly trying to detonate an explosive on an Airbus carrying 279 passengers and 11 crew members.

"It's not bothersome," Dale Sanders said. "It's necessary these days. It's a different world we're living in now."

On their flight, attendants sought to lighten the cabin mood by leading a collective trivia game during the last hour. The prize: a bottle of Champagne.

"We did OK, but we didn't win no bottle of Champagne, I'm afraid," Sanders said.

Lisa Metzger, 23, a kindergarten teacher from Stuttgart, Germany, who arrived last night at Kennedy from Amsterdam, said she was patted down before boarding her KLM flight. She had not heard about the thwarted terrorist incident beforehand.

Asked whether she would have been worried about flying had she known, Metzger said "No" and added through a friend, who translated, "If somebody wants to blow up the plane, she can't change it."

With Ted Phillips

and the AP

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