Image: Paperwork for passenger
Jeff Haynes  /  AFP - Getty Images
A passenger fills out paperwork on Tuesday before his Mexicana Air flight out of Chicago's O'Hare International airport. As of Tuesday, all Americans, Mexicans, Canadians and Bermudians traveling by air to the United States must for the first time carry a passport.
updated 1/23/2007 7:54:37 PM ET 2007-01-24T00:54:37

A new rule requiring U.S. airline passengers to show a passport upon their return from Mexico, Canada or the Caribbean took effect Tuesday, with few reports of stranded travelers.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world’s busiest, reported no problems by midday. “I think we’re looking at 100 percent compliance,” said Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman Susan Shattuck.

Most travelers who forgot about the new requirement were allowed to enter after receiving a warning and a passport application. But their names were entered into the agency’s computer system, and they will be scrutinized if it happens again.

“Nobody’s being turned away,” said Roxanne Hercules, an agency spokesman in Northern California. “These are mostly U.S. citizens coming home from traveling. We just are trying to inform them of the new rules.”

Only about a quarter of U.S. citizens hold valid passports, and most Americans were accustomed to traveling to neighboring countries with just a driver’s license or birth certificate, which have long been sufficient to get through airport customs on the trip home.

At Miami International Airport, a 7-year-old boy and a 2-year-old boy traveling with family from the Caribbean did not have passports.

Pacifier, but no passport
“He had a pacifier but no passport,” Customs and Border Protection spokesman Zachary Mann said of the toddler. Both boys were let into the country after officers explained the new rules to their relatives.

At Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, some Canadians arriving from Toronto had no quibble with the new requirement. “It makes sense,” Shawn Palmer said. “I guess it makes a little more secure for getting across.”

Travel agents and airlines reported no major problems after warning travelers about the new rule for more than a year.

“So far, all is quiet on our front,” said Kathy Gerhardt, spokeswoman for Carlson Wagonlit Travel.

The new regulations were adopted by Congress in 2004 to secure the borders against terrorists.

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The only valid substitutes for a passport will be a NEXUS Air card, used by some American and Canadian frequent fliers; identification as a U.S. Coast Guard merchant mariner; and the green card carried by legal permanent residents. Active members of the U.S. military are exempt.

For now, the rules affect only air travelers. Land and sea travelers will not have to show passports until at least January 2008.

Canadians take it in stride
Clutching their shiny blue passports, Canadian air travelers flew quietly into a new era Tuesday as new rules fuelled by the ever-present threat of terrorism kicked in and put an end to decades of passport-free flights to the United States.

The historic day appeared to pass with barely a hitch at Canadian airports, where travelers — primed for the new rules months in advance — proferred their passports without complaint and said they understood the reasons for having to carry one.

"With everything that the world is doing these days, it doesn't really bother me," businessman Terry Queeley said as he waited at Toronto's bustling Pearson International Airport to board a flight to Baltimore.

"We have our own Canadian passport, so why not use it?"

Watched by an observer from the Canada Border Services Agency, Air Canada officials scurried about the airport Tuesday as they helped passengers check in.

There were no incidents — not surprising given that Michael Chertoff, the U.S. secretary of homeland security, has said some 96 percent of Canadians and 94 percent of Americans were already using passports for air travel.

"Most Canadians have been listening to the news and the media, and understand that they require a passport today," said Air Canada spokeswoman Janet Culver.

‘Normal day’
"It's a normal day for us."

In Calgary, U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins said border officials would enforce the law, which he called "important" to Americans.

But he said he expected immigration officers would also be sensible in its application.

"This is the first day and I'm sure authorities will understand that and know that common sense needs to prevail when problems arise," Wilkins said.

"So we'll just deal with them one at a time."

In need of official discretion was Rachel Weinles, whose 13-year-old daughter Lizzie was set to board a flight from Toronto to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to visit her grandparents.

As she gingerly extracted a mint-condition birth certificate from an oversize envelope for the check-in agent, Weinles said she only realized recently her daughter, a Canadian-American, would need a passport, but couldn't get one in time.

"This is not enough documentation?" a flustered Weinles asked the check-in agent.

"As of today, everyone needs a passport," the agent responded, directing Weinles and her daughter to American immigration officers.

Despite the extra scrutiny, Weinles said she supported the stricter entry requirement.

"Security is worth the hassle," she said.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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