Air travelers dumped their water bottles, tossed their suntan lotion and waited hours in ever lengthening lines Thursday morning as airports ratcheted up security and delayed flights after authorities uncovered a terror plot in Britain.
In major U.S. airports, guards armed with rifles stood at security checkpoints and passengers were met by signs warning that all liquids were now banned from carry-on luggage. In one terminal at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, security workers opened every carry-on bag and all the flights were delayed.
"It's better alive than dead," said Bob Chambers, whose flight from Baltimore to Detroit for business meeting was delayed more than an hour. "It's inconvenient, but we'll make it."
The plot in Britain targeted flights from Britain to the U.S., particularly to New York, Washington and California on United Airlines, American Airlines and Continental Airlines Inc., a counterterrorism official said Thursday, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
U.S. authorities raised the threat level for flights from Britain "red," the first time the highest threat of terrorist attack had been invoked by the federal government. All other flights, including all domestic flights in the United States, were put under an "orange" alert - one step below the highest level.
The tightened security clogged checkpoint lines at the major airports.
At Newark Liberty International Airport, the security checkpoint line for Terminal B, home to most international flights, stretched the entire length of the terminal - roughly six football fields - and was barely moving.
Andra Racibarskas, of Chatham, was trying to get to Michigan to pick up her daughter from camp.
"Checking in was very easy. It took one minute curbside. It took one minute to get my boarding pass," she said. "This line is at least four hours long."
The security lines at Newark's Terminal C, where Continental bases its flights at the airport, was even worse. The crush of people brought to mind a chaotic rock concert.
Bill Federman, of Oklahoma City, missed his Continental flight home because of the lines and was hoping to catch a later flight.
"It's complete disaster and chaos. This has completely overwhelmed the airport's planning. I haven't seen anything this bad since 9-11," he said.
The new ban on all liquids and gels from carry-on luggage - including toothpaste, makeup, perfume and suntan lotion - left people with little choice but throw away juice boxes, makeup and even a bottle of tequila. Baby formula and medicines were exempt but had to be inspected.
Rather than packing toiletries in carry-ons, airport officials asked passengers to put them in checked baggage, which is screened by equipment that can detect explosives, said Phil Orlandella, spokesman for Boston's Logan International Airport.
Extra police and dog units were sent out overnight at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, where American Airlines is based, to patrol terminals and parking garages, airport spokesman Ken Capps said.
American canceled three London-bound morning flights from Chicago, Boston and New York to accommodate delays at London's Heathrow airport, spokesman John Hotard said. To balance the cancellations, the airline also dropped three afternoon or evening flights from London to U.S. cities, Hotard said.
The remaining 13 flights in each direction were expected to run from 1 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours late. The cancellations were due to scheduling delays and not because of possible threats to the flights, Hotard said.
"We're going to be flying out of Heathrow today," he said. "It's just that because it's so congested right now."
At Dulles International Airport outside Washington, Homeland Security put up hastily printed signs warning passengers in red capital letters: "No liquid or gels permitted beyond security."
In Chicago, the aviation commissioner, Nuria Fernandez, urged passengers to arrive early for flights and to consider not bringing carryon luggage.
The terror plot and flight cancellations have "not yet" caused any disruption at Los Angeles International Airport, airport spokeswoman Nancy Castles said early Thursday.
She declined to comment on whether airport officials have heightened security because of the raised threat alert, but she said the airport typically followed any special directives from federal authorities.
Delta Air Lines spokesman Anthony Black said operations would continue normally and there would be no flight cancellations. But Delta was expecting delays on flights coming from the United Kingdom because of heightened security there, Black said.
Associated Press writers Laura Jakes Jordan and Katherine Shrader in Washington contributed to this report.
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