Television anchor Frank Buckley of Los Angeles station KTLA told AOL News that he arrived at Los Angeles International Airport on Wednesday night on a nonstop Delta Air Lines flight after covering the Japanese tsunami. When he got to an escalator leading to customs, he saw uniformed personnel scanning the passengers.
"It appeared to be two customs officials holding some sort of a device and sweeping it over people as they walked by -- across their chests and abdomens," Buckley said. "As people were filing past, they weren't even stopping them. The passengers would look quizzically and move on."
Buckley said a member of his team asked what was happening and one of the customs agents said, "Just keep moving." The second agent responded, "We're checking for isotopes."
The process seemed to be improvised because customs officials at first wouldn't let the passengers disembark, then they were told to leave the plane in a single file, but no explanation was given, Buckley said.
"I don't understand the secrecy behind this and the lack of communication," Buckley said. "As a passenger, this is disconcerting."
A spokesperson from LAX refused to comment and referred calls to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection headquarters in Washington, D.C. A spokesperson there refused to comment on the situation or say whether the screening was happening nationwide.
An official statement obtained by AOL News said that aircraft were being "monitored" and that front-line personnel were equipped with devices that "can detect the presence of radiological materials."
Officials for Dallas-Fort Worth International and Chicago's O'Hare Airport confirmed that scanning was occurring at their airports. Some low levels of radiation have been detected in Dallas.
However, Dallas spokeswoman Mary Jo Polidore told AOL News in a statement:
Tsunami Relief: Network for Good
"Extremely low, trace levels of radiation were found in the cargo area of one flight from Japan yesterday [Wednesday], but CBP advised the source of radiation is consistent with medical equipment usage and is not consistent with materials used in nuclear energy -- and that it is not a danger to customers or employees."
Polidore also said that scannings for radiation are inconspicuous but have been going on since before the disaster in Japan.
Karen Pride, spokeswoman for the Chicago Department of Aviation, told AOL News that customs officials have added screening measures for flights coming in from Japan, but she would not elaborate.
Japan Airlines confirmed to AOL that the screenings began Tuesday at LAX and have since been expanded to all American airports receiving flights from Japan.
"We fully support these cautionary measures," said Japan Airlines spokesperson Carol Anderson.
The U.S. customs statement said: "No aircraft entering the United States has tested positive for radiation at harmful levels. To address radiological and nuclear risks, CBP employs several types of radiation detection equipment in its operations at both air and sea ports, and uses this equipment, along with specific operational protocols, to resolve any security or safety risks that are identified with inbound travelers and cargo."
The statement said front-line customs employees have radiation detectors and will use them on aircraft and incoming cargo ships. Any cargo vessel containing mail or other items will not be allowed entry into the country if signs of radiation exist.
Buckley said he has traveled extensively throughout his career in television and does not believe the scanning is routine.
"I have never once upon returning back to Los Angeles seen a customs agent wand anything like they did last night," he said. "I'm happy to do it -- just tell us what you're doing."
Flightglobal.com is reporting that Lufthansa airlines has been scanning incoming flights to Germany since Sunday.