TSA orders search of all planes; no changes to screening procedures

The Transportation Security Administration on Friday ordered all U.S. commercial aircraft to be searched within 24 hours after suspicious bags were found on two planes, but the agency has not ordered changes in how passengers and baggage are screened at airports.

TSA issued the order after small plastic bags containing boxcutters and other items were found inside the lavatories of two Southwest Airlines planes late Thursday night. Southwest reported the bags were found on one plane in New Orleans and on another in Houston during routine maintenance checks.

A note in both bags indicated the items were intended to challenge TSA's checkpoint security procedures, Southwest said in a statement Friday.

The incidents came only hours after a congressional hearing on aviation security Thursday. During the hearing, lawmakers criticized TSA for not doing enough to shore up security at the country's airports, particularly with regard to screening passengers and baggage.

"The simple fact is you can walk through a metal detector today and go undetected," said Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation, at the hearing.

Linda Rutherford, spokeswoman for Southwest, said TSA is responsible for checkpoints and screening of carry-on luggage for Southwest flights. She did not know of any additional security measures TSA was taking with regard to screening passengers or bags. She added that Southwest completed a search of its 385 planes by Friday.

Darrin Kayser, TSA spokesman, said the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force is leading an investigation into how the bags ended up on the planes. He said U.S. airlines have about 5,800 aircraft, all of which are being searched, adding that no airline disruptions or delays have been reported.

"We are going to investigate and move forward aggressively," he said.

He said TSA continuously reviews security measures and uses multiple systems in order to prevent attacks on U.S. commercial aircraft.

"Security is not a destination; it is a journey, and this is part of our journey in reinforcing our security system," he said.

Southwest said in its statement that it will continue to cooperate with the TSA and FBI to determine the origin of these items.

"We will not speculate on who might have left these items onboard," the airline said in its statement. "We will cooperate with the federal authorities to investigate this thoroughly."