U.S. allows air travelers to carry on more liquids

Authorities relax ban on toiletries, beverages, gels

September 26, 2006|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,Sun reporter

Airline passengers can start carrying on limited amounts of liquids and gels today when boarding domestic and international flights after federal security officials said they would relax a six-week ban put in place after an alleged terror plot.

U.S. authorities now say there is little threat from a few ounces of toothpaste or hair spray aboard airplanes. Passengers will be allowed to bring toiletries and other items through security checkpoints. They also may carry onto the plane beverages such as soft drinks and coffee that they buy after passing through the security gate.

Easing the restrictions will enable airport screeners to focus on other security methods such as behavior profiling and identification verification, federal officials said yesterday. But aviation experts said that while the new rules will please some passengers and airport retailers who can again sell their wares, the updates might confuse many others. And the regulations also might not improve security.

The new rules allow passengers to carry on:

All cosmetics such as lip gloss and travel-size toiletries in liquid, gel or aerosol form - 3 ounces or less of each. The items must fit in one clear, quart-size zip-top bag.

Water, coffee and other items bought after passing the security gates.

Alcohol, perfume or other items purchased in duty-free shops beyond the security gates.

Larger amounts of medicines or milk for infants or toddlers than were permitted under the previous rules.

"My immediate thought was this will be a gold mine for airport retailers," said Robert Mann, president of R.W. Mann & Co. Inc., an airline industry analysis and consulting firm. "But really, this change will raise more issues than it solves. It was an ineffective program, and changing it doesn't make it more effective."

U.S. authorities had barred carrying on all liquids Aug. 10, after British officials said they thwarted an effort to bring explosives aboard planes bound for the United States. The ban forced most passengers to pack their toiletries and cosmetics in checked baggage to avoid tossing those items when security screeners identified them.

Mann said X-ray technology used at airports does not detect liquid explosives. So, screeners wouldn't necessarily spot trouble in carry-on bags under the former or revised rules, he said.

And focusing narrowly on liquid explosives carried aboard airplanes won't protect the public anyway, said Stephen Gale, co-chairman of the Center on Terrorism, Counter-Terrorism and Homeland Security at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He also is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Gale argues that security officials need to think more broadly about terrorist plots because criminals adapt quickly.

"The changes to the rules give them flexibility," he said. "They weren't finding anything associated with a real terrorist attack, and it was becoming a nightmare for them to enforce. Now they can focus their time, attention and money on other things. They're freed up to look at other things, such as behavior profiling, assuming they can do it properly."

Flexibility gained

Kip Hawley, Transportation Security Administration chief, said yesterday that screeners should spend less time rooting through passenger bags for toiletries and more time on other measures, some that the public will notice and others that they won't. U.S. airports will remain on high alert, and the rules are not likely to be relaxed again before the holiday season.

"After the initial, total ban, we have learned enough from the U.K. investigation to say with confidence that small, travel-size liquids are safe to bring through security checkpoints in limited numbers," Hawley said in a statement. "We have also taken additional security measures throughout the airport that make us comfortable allowing passengers to bring beverages and other items purchased in the secure area onboard."

In addition to behavior profiling, where trained screeners observe suspicious actions, and more rigorous identity verification of passengers, there also will be more random employee screening and more canine patrols, he said. Air cargo, long considered a weak link by security experts, will also receive more scrutiny.

Hawley said the new rules and actions, taken together, should provide tighter security - as well as more convenience for travelers. He said screeners have been trained in the new rules, and he expected passengers to catch on quickly, as they did last month when the liquids ban was introduced.

Possibly confusing international travelers, however, could be inconsistent rules. Canada has adopted the same rules as the U.S. airports for flights departing from that country. But Britain continues to ban all liquids on flights from its airports. On Friday, British authorities announced that passengers could carry aboard larger bags (about 22 inches by 17.75 inches by 9.85 inches). Passengers are limited to one bag each.

Passengers approve

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