Long list of do's, don'ts for air travel gets longer

New carry-on bans bring disorder but no major snags at BWI

Travelers

War On Terrorism

August 11, 2006|By SUMATHI REDDY | SUMATHI REDDY,SUN REPORTER

The man patrolling the long line that wound its way through Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport yesterday morning laid down the new law.

Chapstick is in. Lotion is out.

"What about cologne?" a passenger hollered to the Transportation Security Administration employee in the airport's busy Concourse D.

He shook his head forcefully. No cologne. No perfume. No toothpaste. No suntan lotion. No hair gel. No mouthwash. No Tostitos cheese dip.

Not even bottled water.

The long list of travelers' do's and don'ts grew even longer yesterday after British authorities announced that they had thwarted a terrorist plot to bomb multiple airplanes bound for the United States. Officials said the alleged attackers planned to create explosives by mixing liquids and detonating the blend with electronic devices.

Baltimore's airport - like those around the country - promptly banned most liquids from being carried on board. The restrictions immediately strained the rhythms of what has increasingly evolved into an anxiety-ridden process where even the simplest, most benign-seeming product is a threat.

The initial result was chaos - not to mention worries of bad hair and even worse breath. But by late morning, security was humming along, punctuated by frequent questions and concerns but no major snags.

Some travelers found themselves stuffing already swollen suitcases with extra toiletries. Those with carry-ons carefully scrutinized their belongings, tossing out $60 bottles of cologne alongside half-squeezed tubes of toothpaste and pricey hair gels. Trash receptacles bore proof.

For the frequent travelers, there was annoyance. For the less frequent, a tinge of extra anxiety, but not enough to cancel or postpone plans.

"I'm preparing," Elizabeth Winegrad, 59, of Annapolis said as she combed through the contents of her purse waiting in a line of hundreds of travelers.

"I guess I'm going to have to throw away this," she said, holding up small bottles of mouthwash, shampoo and conditioner. "This is good stuff. Want it?"

Winegrad was 30 minutes into a still much longer wait. "We're never going to be 100 percent safe so if we have to stand in these long lines, it's worth it if we're safer," she said.

Others were more irate.

"I just think it goes from sublime to ridiculous when I can't bring contact lens solution on a plane," said Garnet Woodham, 43, of Silver Spring, who waited in a security line with his two children for nearly three hours yesterday morning, still missing their flight to Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Instead, they had to get to Washington's Reagan National Airport to catch a late-afternoon flight to Miami.

"Now they allow scissors, but they don't allow deodorant, shaving cream or cologne? I'm willing to curtail some of my liberties in the interest of public safety and flying, but at some point, it's enough already," he said.

Steve Keating had similar feelings. The 22-year-old graduate student at George Washington University was flying home to Rochester, N.Y., but missed his 10:50 a.m. flight. Instead, he was standing by for a 4:30 p.m. flight.

"I didn't think it would be this bad," said Keating, who had handed off his liquid and gel items to his girlfriend to avoid the luggage check-in line. "I'm a little annoyed. I think they're over-reacting."

In the post-Sept. 11 world of heightened aviation security, travelers are used to added layers of security, extra-long lines and random searches.

Shoes off. Jacket off. Pockets emptied. Box cutters and knives - in the garbage.

But for the frequent traveler, the extra steps might prove to be one restriction too many.

Jay Ellenby, CEO of Safe Harbors Travel Group, a Baltimore travel agency that represents many business travelers, said his clients are well-versed in the aviation world. Many avoid checking luggage so they don't have to wait to retrieve it.

"We're now seeing precautions that are much more extreme than we had before," Ellenby said. "A few years back it was someone's shoe. Now it's liquids. It's just another form of preparation."

Ellenby said the most difficult restrictions for his clients are the threat level Red measures in place for flights from London. Those prohibit all carry-on luggage, including laptops, cell phones and iPods.

"If you're traveling six or seven hours across the Atlantic, you want to work on your laptop," Ellenby said. "And we've had some clients say that in the past they've had laptops stolen" from checked baggage, he said.

Susan Talbott travels to Paris about a half-dozen times a year and says she can't bear the thought of even more extensive waits.

"I guess I'm so sick and tired of taking off my shoes because of that one stupid ... guy, the so-called shoe bomber," said Talbott, 67, of Baltimore. "It seems to me they get focused on something and then they have blinders on about other things.

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