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Travel diary

By Henry Schuster

Editor's note: Henry Schuster, a senior producer in CNN's Investigative Unit and author of "Hunting Eric Rudolph," has been covering terrorism for more than a decade. Each week in "Tracking Terror," he reports on people and organizations driving international and domestic terrorism, and efforts to combat them.
A security officer at Washington Dulles International Airport alerts travelers to the new rules.



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Tracking Terror
Acts of terror
Great Britain

LONDON, England (CNN) -- It's almost five years since 9/11 and the woman behind the counter is saying I can't take chocolate on my flight to Atlanta.

Each of us comes to this intersection between terrorism and public safety in a different way. Most of us didn't lose a loved one on 9/11 or 3/11 or 7/7, so it's easier to become inured to the threat and more attuned to the inconvenience.

For some air travelers the inconvenience is the long security lines, for others it's the plastic knives with the in-flight meals.

For me, on this particular morning, the problem is chocolate.

I want to buy some chocolate for my children from the duty-free store at Gatwick airport before going home. But the woman at the register won't let me and I'm not happy.

I ought to be more sympathetic. After all, I've spent the last eight days covering the alleged plot to blow up planes over the Atlantic and the ensuing carry-on restrictions have already been eased a bit.

Passengers are still not allowed liquids or gels. But it's not the end of the world and certainly better than no carry-on at all.

Gatwick and Walthamstow

The long lines at the airport security checkpoint seem far from Walthamstow, the East London neighborhood where some of the alleged conspirators live. Or the other homes of the suspects in Birmingham, the city in the British Midlands, and in High Wycombe, up on the northern edge of London's suburban sprawl.

But the connection is there, even if this time -- with a plot allegedly foiled instead of carried out -- more of the focus has been on the travelers affected than the alleged terrorists.

There have been stranded travelers, tired travelers and cranky travelers who just want to get where they're going, either on a business trip or summer vacation.

Such wandering souls filled the lobby at one hotel near London's Heathrow airport, with some at the bar trying to drink and smoke their way through the delays while others searched for an ATM or information on flights.

A wedding reception in the hotel's ballroom caused some consternation, as if the travelers had forgotten that life outside their own small ordeal was going on quite nicely.

Security and sniffer dog

I headed to London the day the alleged plot was announced, not knowing what lay in store.

By late afternoon on that first day of the no-gel, no-liquid regime, the security lines at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson airport were actually shorter than usual. Only a few bottles of Coke and Gatorade were in a makeshift trash box by the metal detectors.

That was it, except for those of us on the London-bound flight, who had to get to the gate an hour before flight time and run the gauntlet of 18 TSA inspectors and a sniffer dog.

The security checks themselves delayed the flight two hours; then thunderstorms set us back another two hours and a faulty instrument reading added a final two hours of delay. (We were on the plane by then and they couldn't let us off because that would have meant repeating the two-hour security check).

After that, arriving in the UK was a breeze.

Testing the limits ... with candy

Then there I was, eight days later, arriving three hours early at the airport and hoping leaving the UK would be as easy.

Check-in wasn't too bad. My toothpaste and sunscreen were in my suitcase, so I thought the carry-on check should have been simple.

start quoteThey keep changing the rules.end quote
-- Store supervisor

Not quite. My backpack was a bit too full for the new measurements, so I had to put some items in my suitcase. Which of course made my suitcase too heavy, so I had to take some items out and put them in a cardboard box.

The line through the security check was long, but moved quickly. Taking off your shoes and pulling out your laptop are something American air travelers do every day, so having to do that in the UK is no big deal.

The guards were cheerful and most travelers were just eager to make their planes.

In the shopping area, I heard the announcements telling people to drink up before boarding.

So far, so good -- until the attempted chocolate purchase. I wasn't trying to test any limits, but it seemed that's what I was doing. As soon as the woman ringing up my purchase found out I was going to the United States, it was no sale.

A small victory

At the gate about 90 minutes early, I mentioned to the guard doing the extra security search there that I would like to bring chocolates on board. He told me it wasn't a problem and that I had more than enough time to go back and get some.

"Just as long as they aren't liquid-filled," he added with a grin.

Back I went, and this time I chose a different register for my purchase. Once again, I was told no sale.

This time, I asked to speak to a supervisor. I didn't want a fight but I did want those chocolates for my kids.

The supervisor eventually showed up and I explained what I wanted and what I had been told at the gate.

She looked at the new regulations -- now four days old -- and told me it was OK. "They keep changing the rules," she said by way of explanation.

I felt I had won a small victory. No would-be terrorists were going to keep me from bringing home the traditional present.

Back at the gate, the security guard gave me another search, looked in my bag and nodded approvingly at the chocolates. "Good on you," he said, "Have a nice flight."

On board, when they served the meal, I used the plastic knife without a second thought.

The latest alleged plot reminds us the threat is real and hasn't gone away. The trick is in fitting that into your daily life and moving on.

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