HUNDREDS of thousands of airline passengers are facing luggage swabs and clothing searches as they jet off for summer holidays following a new terrorist alert.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said enhanced checks, also likely to include greater scrutiny of shoes and electronic devices, were unlikely to be a temporary measure.
He said in a radio interview yesterday: “I don’t think we should expect this to be just a one-off temporary thing. We have to make sure that the checks are there to meet the nature of the new kinds of threats.”
Prime Minister David Cameron later said the safety of passengers “must come first” as airports across the country stepped up security.
On Wednesday night, US homeland security secretary Jeh Johnson ordered foreign airports which have direct flights to America to make the changes.
It reportedly comes as a result of intelligence that groups in Yemen and Syria had joined forces to plot an attack.
Mr Clegg added: “I don’t want people to think that this is just a blip for a week. This is part of an evolving and constant review about whether the checks we have in our airports, and indeed in other places of entry, keep up with what we know.”
Mr Cameron said: “The safety of the travelling public must come first. We mustn’t take any risks with that. I hope this won’t lead to unnecessary delays but it’s very important that we always put safety first, and we do.”
The UK government highlighted the importance of vigilance but said the extra measures – which they did not disclose – are not expected to cause “significant disruption” to passengers and the official UK threat status remains unchanged at “substantial”, the third grade in the five-level rating.
Neither Edinburgh nor Glasgow airports would comment yesterday on the increased security measures, but both said passengers were not being held up.
“There are no delays or disruptions and none are expected,” a Glasgow airport spokesman said.
A spokesperson for Edinburgh airport said: “We are operating as normal and are working to ensure passengers are kept informed about the situation.”
Edinburgh has three flights to the US on an average day, to New York, Philadelphia and Chicago; Glasgow has between two and five, to New York, Philadelphia and Orlando.
Manchester airport said there were longer queues earlier yesterday but waiting times had returned to normal.
Passengers yesterday spoke of extra swab machines at departure gates on transatlantic flights to allow staff to check hand luggage before boarding.
The increased security measures come amid fears that individuals with Western passports who have travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight with Islamist extremists could be used to smuggle devices on to planes.
However, defence analyst Tim Ripley, from Jane’s Defence Weekly, warned there was a possibility western intelligence was being misled.
“There could be psychological warfare going on, everyone planting false information,” he said. “It would seem like a diversion of resources when you can drive trucks into Damascus to be scaring people at Prestwick airport. It seems low down the list of jihadi priorities.”
The tightening of security came as a message was posted on a Twitter page purporting to be that of a British jihadi in Iraq, saying the UK was “afraid” he might come back with skills he had learned fighting with terror group the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (Isis).
The message was posted yesterday on an account believed to belong to Nasser Muthana, from Cardiff, who appeared in a recent Isis propaganda video.