Loss of laptops, books lamented

Holding in-flight boredom at bay is harder


CHANTILLY, Va. -- In airports all over the world, airline passengers were going through withdrawal from the small comforts they were able to bring aboard planes before this week's reports of a foiled terrorist plot.

At Dulles International Airport yesterday afternoon, Nigel Weaver was being forced to go cold turkey where his laptop was concerned.

As he waited in line for a flight to London on British Airways, where an especially strict set of rules limiting carry-on luggage was being enforced, the 40-year-old robotics engineer was dreading the prospect of a trans-Atlantic flight with his computer stowed in the cargo hold.

"I can live without my clothes, I can live without my toiletries, I can live without my books, but I can't work without my laptop," Weaver said.

The metropolitan London resident, like many tech-savvy travelers, was wary of committing his computer and the precious data on its hard drive to the sometimes less-than-tender mercies of an airline baggage-handling operation.

"All of my control software is on there - everything," he said. "All the robots are controlled though software on that machine."

The British Airways counter at Dulles was the place to go yesterday to find an abundance of people coping with a loss of control in the aftermath of the announcement that British intelligence had uncovered a plot to set off improvised bombs on international flights.

The airline was enforcing - albeit inconsistently - some of the most draconian rules in the aviation industry.

Boxes of large clear plastic bags lay on the counters, while airline workers distributed them to passengers waiting in lines that took hours to get through.

According to rules imposed by the British government, only a limited number of items - such as identification documents, glasses (no cases) and prescription medicines - could be carried on board. And Ziploc was quickly becoming the new brand name for carry-on luggage.

Many formerly permitted items had to be stowed in checked baggage. They included not just the gels and liquids banned by the U.S. government, but such staples of transoceanic travel as reading material and electronic devices.

Ian Dawson, 50, said he normally gets some work done on his laptop while in flight.

"Realistically, what are you going to do for eight hours on an airline?" said Dawson, a finance worker from Aberdeen, Scotland.

Without his laptop, Dawson said, he'd probably "have a sleep and watch a movie I wouldn't normally watch."

Baltimore-area professionals who frequently travel overseas were taking the restrictions in stride. They didn't expect the new rules to significantly affect business trips overseas.

"You adjust your temperament and you may be inconvenienced, but you go with it," said Greg Tucker, public relations officer at Dutch insurer Aegon NV, which has its U.S. headquarters in Baltimore. "It's part of business."

Tucker arrived at Dulles yesterday on a direct flight from Amsterdam, bypassing his usual route via London. For his next trip back to the Netherlands next week, Tucker said he'll fly from Dulles directly to Amsterdam. That way, he can bring his carry-on bag, his BlackBerry and a laptop if he needs it.

Experts expect the ban on electronic devices to ease over time.

"Right now, people are counting on these restrictions being temporary," said Caleb Tiller, a spokesman for the National Business Travel Association, which represents corporate travel managers. "For now, when you're in a situation where you can't bring a laptop on board, they're biting the bullet and dealing with it."

For the most part, vacationers were having an easier time of it than business fliers yesterday. Few at Dulles expressed reservations about the bans of liquids or gels, though younger travelers were distressed to be separated from their iPods and DVD players.

For some travelers, the notion of a long flight with nothing to read but airline magazines was downright barbaric. "I'll lose my mind if I can't have a book on the plane," lamented Scott Heimberg, a Potomac lawyer.

Officially, Heimberg's copy of the novel The Book of the Dead would have to be stuffed in a suitcase or abandoned before the security checkpoint. John Lampl, a spokesman for the airline in New York, said any kind of carry-on reading material was forbidden under British government rules - no books, no magazines, no newspapers.

"There should be no confusion whatsoever on anybody's part," Lampl said.

But enforcement was inconsistent at Dulles on the second day of new security restrictions. Some employees followed the company line; others were permitting one book in a plastic bag.

C. J. Faris of Chantilly was standing with a group of his soccer pals on Team America - London-bound for a match with a Chelsea club. Faris, 18, had just been cleared to advance to the security checkpoint clutching a plastic bag with his ID and a paperback copy of John Steinbeck's East of Eden.

"Usually I carry an iPod with me to travel or a portable DVD player," he said. "I'll be able to get all my summer reading done for school."

While most travelers accepted the new carry-on restrictions as an unfortunate necessity, others were critical.

"When they say something like you can't carry a book on board, they're playing into the terrorists' hands," said George Wyatt of Bethesda. He said the prime objective of terrorists was "to provoke the authorities to overreact."



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