Silver lining

August 30, 2006

At last, an upside to the confiscatory restrictions applied to airplane carry-ons in the wake of the alleged terrorist plot exposed in Britain this month: Air travel may actually be more pleasant.

After a tour around Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, The Sun's Meredith Cohn reported that the restrictions have persuaded so many travelers to check bags they would otherwise have carried on, security lines are shorter, boarding is faster and, perhaps as a result, more flights are coming and going on time.

Airline officials caution that it's too soon to draw firm conclusions about more accurate flight schedules or to determine how much of the crowding and delay have simply been transferred to the other end of the trip when checked baggage is collected. Further, statistics are not yet available on whether more checked luggage is lost or misrouted.

Still, the signs are positive. If delays caused by passengers trying to schlep all manner of bulky bags are eased or erased, tighter schedules should help the airlines manage checked baggage as well. Plus, there's simply the comfort factor of not having to endure the pushing and tugging and lifting and hauling of all that carry-on luggage.

This development appears to have been a serendipity. But travelers may find the good old American entrepreneurial spirit comes up with other ways to help them adjust to the new rules.

Can't carry on toothpaste to freshen up during a long flight? Maybe tooth powder will make a comeback. All shoes off? Maybe someone will start making see-through travel booties for trooping through security gates. And something will have to be done about duty-free goods - such as liquor - purchased after bags have been checked. But where there's a will, there's a way.

Most passengers can probably live without the banned stuff - such as shampoo and suntan lotion - for the duration of their air travel. The imposition on business travelers of showing up earlier than usual to check bags they would otherwise carry on, and to linger longer at airports to collect luggage at the baggage claim, is more onerous.

Yet if the stricter security rules have truly, if accidentally, built swifter, crisper efficiency into loading and unloading airplanes, frequent fliers may well have the most to gain.

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