washingtonpost.com
Liquids and Gels Discarded With Weary Surrender

By Fredrick Kunkle and Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff writers
Friday, August 11, 2006

Calvin Klein perfume and L'Oreal mousse, toothpaste and mouthwash, shampoo, hair conditioner, nail polish and deodorant (stick and spray) -- they all got chucked yesterday as travelers emptied their shaving kits and cosmetic bags in the latest ritual of an airport security crackdown.

Gallon after gallon of bottled water in just about every shape, brand and size were also forsaken. The crackdown came as airport officials expanded the list of banned items after the breakup in London of a plot by terrorists planning to blow up U.S.-bound passenger jets with liquid explosives hidden in carry-on luggage.

It created a state of manageable pandemonium that lasted for hours at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall, Reagan National and Dulles International airports. But the disruptions were endured in an overall spirit of solidarity and goodwill as word of the plot sank in.

"I came this morning thinking all this stuff is just overkill. I'm just not sure the balance is right between inconvenience and all the security," said Karen Solon, 62, a retired preschool teacher from Falls Church who was flying from Dulles to Canada. "Then they told me about this" plot.

By afternoon, the crowds had thinned and calm had returned but for the occasional moment of drama.

"I'm having a meltdown !" one overstressed maid of honor at National hissed into her cellphone.

But hours before, the scene was chaotic as early-morning passengers began arriving.

Security checkpoints became clogged, creating lines that snaked through the terminals. At BWI, screeners were so thorough that they confiscated toothpaste from air marshals, who carry guns. Police patrolled the terminals with machine guns and sniffer dogs, and fresh signs were posted: "NO LIQUID OR GELS PERMITTED BEYOND SECURITY."

Some security officials taped the advisories to their backs. Others carried megaphones.

"Mascara is not permitted to go!" one shouted. Allowances were made for baby formula and prescription medicines.

As Transportation Security Administration officials struggled with the backups, passengers fretted about whether they would make their flights, whether the new precautions made sense, whether someone would actually try blowing up airplanes with a gel-like substance. Some wished they could cancel their flights, and at least one couple did. And sometimes, though infrequently, their tempers erupted.

"They were basically yelling at whoever they could find," said Zayna Topallar, American Airlines' baggage service manager at National.

Duy Doan, 26, of Fairfax said his heart dropped when he heard the news on television hours before he was to board a United flight to London to visit a friend.

Still, by 3 p.m., he was in the check-in line, clutching his girlfriend's hand. Then came the doubts, the thought of trying to sleep on the plane and not knowing what could happen.

After 90 minutes in line, he decided to cancel his trip -- "I don't think it's worth it," he said -- and to drive to Montreal with his girlfriend.

As news of the plot sank in, however, some of the fear and frustration evaporated, replaced by resignation.

Wanda Jameson, who was flying to Detroit out of BWI, said she did not mind giving up a pump bottle of Dove soap that could have come in handy while she attended a training session for a plumbers union.

"This is great. I'd rather be safe than sorry," said Jameson, a plumbing instructor who lives in Waldorf.

Some of the most emotional scenes occurred as people opened carry-on bags to reveal their personal -- and sometimes costly -- grooming secrets. And then trash them.

"I'm a little depressed," said Brett Boyd, 37, a pharmaceutical sales representative who said goodbye to a $10 bottle of Crew hair gel and other toiletries.

At Dulles, one man splashed some cologne on his face before pitching the bottle. Lobby manager Roseline Sarfaz said she saw a woman weeping over tossing out perfume and other makeup that cost more than $250.

Nathaniel Hedman and his wife were at Dulles to see off his parents when several passengers began jettisoning toiletries.

A woman from Ghana invited them to take a package of fake eyelashes, which came with a packet of liquid. Another gave them nail polish. Someone else parted with a $42 box of Curve Crush-brand "daily deodorant," "cologne travel spray" and skin soother."

"Oh, they were upset -- especially the lady from Ghana," Hedman said.

There was some happiness later in the day. A cheer went up in the international arrivals area of Dulles at 6:45 p.m. when the first passengers of United Flight 921 from London emerged from the customs area, looking dazed by a long day that ended with a long flight and the bright lights of TV news cameras.

"This is all we were allowed to take onboard," said Martha McColey of Hazleton, Pa., toting a small, clear plastic bag with her passport, wallet and prescription bottles. "They wouldn't even let us take a book."

The flight was more than four hours late, but passengers and their families were relieved after the hours of worry. Arnold resident Gail Somerville first learned about the bomb plot from her daughter, Monique Mobray, 16, who woke her with a phone call at 5:15 a.m. from London.

"She said, 'Ma, turn on the TV,' " Somerville said. "I thought, 'Oh, no, this can't be happening.' "

Staff writers Annie Gowen, Nick Miroff, Sandhya Somashekhar, Theresa Vargas and Del Quentin Wilber contributed to this report.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company