The FAA, which has in the past banned such objects as toenail clippers and hair gel, took the extraordinary step of banning people after the Department of Homeland Security conducted a thorough investigation of previous terror plots.
"We looked at terror plots of the past, and in each and every case, people were involved," said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff at a Washington press briefing. "These new rules send the strong message that the FAA has zero tolerance for people."
Mr. Chertoff said that while banning liquids from flights was a constructive step, the only true solution was to ban people altogether.
"Let's face it, hair gel doesn't kill people," he said. "People kill people."
The Homeland Security Secretary acknowledged that the new rules would curtail Americans' ability to travel, but added, "On the plus side, that will make them easier for us to spy on."
The FAA's ban on people onboard flights raised questions for the nation's airlines, which must now ponder what, if anything, their airplanes will be carrying.
But Davis Logsdon, who studies the airline industry at the University of Minnesota, said that the FAA's crackdown on people could be a "win-win" for the airlines: "Maybe if the airlines don't have people to worry about, they can finally concentrate on getting our luggage to the right destination."
Elsewhere, al-Qaeda disavowed responsibility for a terror plot to make Americans' laptops burst into flames, blaming it instead on Dell.
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