WASHINGTON — Hundreds of international air passengers were subjected to more intensive baggage inspections Thursday because the airlines they were flying hadn’t turned over advance lists of passengers for screening.
The U.S. Customs Service said the more rigorous inspections will continue for international airlines that don’t supply the agency with the passenger information. Most have been providing this information for years.
"International flights pose a national security risk to the United States if the air carriers do not provide Customs with comprehensive and accurate data about their passengers prior to arrival," said Customs commissioner Robert Bonner.
More than two dozen flights, with an average of 125 to 150 passengers per flight, were affected Thursday, estimated Customs spokesman Dennis Murphy. That meant each passenger’s bag, whether carried on the plane or checked, was searched. Murphy did not have information on the number of bags.
Because of the stepped up inspections, it was taking longer than usual for people to clear Customs, Murphy said, although he didn’t know how long the delays were running.
Customs didn’t bring on extra inspectors, but that remained a possibility, he said.
In a letter recently sent to 58 carriers, Bonner warned that heightened inspections would begin Thursday for airlines that haven’t turned over passenger lists.
The letter was sent to 58 airlines that as of Nov. 21 were not providing Customs with advance passenger information. Those airlines include Saudi Arabian Airlines, Aeroflot Russian Airlines, Air China, Pakistan International Airlines and Ethiopian Airlines.
Murphy said 16 airlines, including Aeroflot, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Icelandair, Royal Jordanian, Royal Maroc based in Morocco and Pakistan International Airlines, have contacted Customs about providing the service with passenger information.
Nonetheless, those airlines will continue to be subject to the more intensive inspectors until they supply the information, Murphy said.
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