Q&A: New Requirements for Air Travel

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Thursday, August 10, 2006; 7:46 PM

The Transportation Security Administration has imposed new security measures in response to an alleged terrorist plot uncovered in Britain. Individual airports have also responded with their own efforts. And airline employees and security officers are interpreting those directives in differing ways. Here are some answers to questions about the new requirements. With procedures subject to change, it's best to check your airline's Web site before you head to the airport .

What can I bring onboard?

On all flights except those from Britain to the United States, you can have carry-on luggage, but you can't bring any liquids, including beverages, shampoo, hair gel, toothpaste, suntan lotion or anything else of a similar consistency.

Baby bottles and juice are allowed if you are traveling with a small child. Prescription medications and insulin are allowed, as long as the name on the prescription has to match the passenger's name.

Be prepared to take a sip of your child's drink or your medicine. Though it's not TSA policy, some security agents have asked passengers to sample those items.

Electronics, such as digital music players, cellphones, key fobs and laptops are still allowed.

What items must now go in checked baggage?

Anything that is liquid or gel-like, such as toothpaste, creams, lotions or perfume.

Uncertain what to do with that tube of liquid eyeliner or can of mousse? The TSA advises that if you're not sure something will pass inspection, you're better off checking it.

Can I bring onboard beverages that I buy after going through security?

No. You will have to gulp them down before boarding or throw them away. Some airlines have increased in-flight beverage supplies.

What if I'm flying from Britain to the United States ?

All flights from Britain to the United States are subject to additional restrictions by British and U.S. authorities. No carry-on bags and no handbags will be allowed on those flights.

Some essential items can be brought onboard, but they must be put into a clear plastic bag to make searching easier. Only such essential items as wallets, eyeglasses, contact lens cases, prescription medicine, keys, travel documents, unboxed tissues, and sanitary items such as tampons, diapers and baby wipes are allowed. Contact lens solution is not permitted.

What does "code red" mean? How is it different from "code orange?"

All flights from Britain to the United States are on code red, the highest of five threat levels issued by the Department of Homeland Security.

Flights originating in the United States are on code orange, the threat level immediately below red.

Code red means additional restrictions on carry-on items for anyone flying from Britain to the United States. There could be more searches at the gate before a flight departs, random searches after a flight has arrived in the United States -- on top of the usual trip through customs -- and greater air marshal presence on flights.

Code orange can mean more random baggage searches at the gate. Passengers may be pulled aside at checkpoints for a search even without having set off the metal detector. U.S. Customs and Border Protection will increase enforcement efforts in international arrival areas, including search teams for baggage and aircraft.

Will I be subject to additional screening?

Travelers should expect another round of security checks by TSA or local law enforcement authorities at the gate before boarding.

Will my car be inspected at the airport?

Airports may institute random vehicle checks. As of yesterday, Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport was not conducting random vehicle searches. A spokesman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority declined to comment on whether Dulles International Airport and Reagan National Airport were conducting vehicle searches.

What can I do to make boarding easier?

Before leaving home, call the airport or visit its Web site for information on possible delays.

Have your ticket or boarding pass and identification ready when you reach the security checkpoint. If you have baby bottles or juice for a child, or medicines you need to have with you during the flight, be ready to present those for inspection.

Wear shoes and belts that are easy to remove. Don't fill up your pockets with too many items or loose change, as you will have to empty them.

Are checked bags and freight on commercial flights being screened?

All checked baggage is screened for explosives, as is any cargo marked for a specific passenger.

Currently, there is no way of screening all air cargo for explosives. Air cargo is examined by cargo inspectors, and authorities have established a list of "known shippers" whom they have vetted.

How early should I get to the airport?

Most airlines are telling travelers flying within the United States to get to the airport at least two hours early, and three hours early if they are flying to a foreign country. Call the airline or airport or go online for the most updated flight information.

Will I be penalized if I cancel or reschedule my flight?

Probably not. Most airlines are giving travelers through the weekend to cancel or rebook flights to Britain scheduled for yesterday to Monday for no extra charge, provided all travel is completed by Sept. 1.

Some airlines have extended the same policy to customers traveling within the United States.

Restrictions vary by carrier, so call your airline for specifics.

How long will the restrictions remain in effect? TSA officials say that they do not know how long the restrictions will remain and that they have not decided what other steps might be taken.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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