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Major changes to LAX travel after 9/11

September 6, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
The attacks on September 11, 2001, changed the way we travel. Airports around the world have undergone massive changes and security continues to be on the forefront of passengers' minds.

In a post-9/11 world, you need look no further than the airport to see some profound changes to our daily lives. From full-body scanners to pat-downs, security is at an all-time high.

That's especially true for international travelers flying into Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), the nation's third-busiest airport.

"We are under one umbrella now, we have one mission. We're very focused," said Carlos Martel, port director for U.S. Customs and Border Protection at LAX. Customs and Border Protection is a federal agency created in the years following 9/11.

Martel says his agency is in charge of protecting the country from terrorist threats while also processing the thousands of legitimate travelers who arrive every day.

On average, about 24,000 international travelers arrive at LAX every day, and CBP says each and every one of them is screened, in some cases up to three days before they board flights.

"We've entered into agreements with carriers, partnerships with carriers, where we're able to get information on inbound passengers and cargo up to 72 hours prior to those passengers or that cargo boarding those aircrafts coming into the United States," said Martel.

Customs and Border Protection gathers information on high-risk passengers and their travel patterns, then shares that information with other agencies under the Department of Homeland Security.

"The information-sharing in the post-9/11 environment is much more critical," said Thomas Reis, CBP counterterrorism task force section chief at LAX. "The amount of time that people can respond to that information is much more timely and could be much more critical, and the difference is us releasing a person of interest versus getting enough information to deny them entry to the United States."

Another change since 9/11: CBP is now actively engaged in scrutinizing outbound passengers, especially those headed toward high-risk countries.

"The U.S. government is certainly concerned about terrorism, certainly concerned about certain countries of interest, and we're proactively involved in actually screening those passengers as they depart the United States," said Tony Owens, Customs and Border Protection section chief.

When it comes to foreign visitors, each must now submit to a fingerprint scan and a photograph upon entering the country. That information is cross-referenced with their visas.

"We match them up with the fingerprints that were taken at the consular post to ensure that the person who's presenting the travel document is the true bearer of that document. That didn't use to happen," said Martel.

So whether it's the dog that's trained to sniff out illegal agricultural products or the scientists scanning for dangerous insects, or even the hundreds of closed-circuit security cameras scanning passengers and cargo areas, the impact that 9/11 had on LAX is literally everywhere.


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