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Air Travelers Discovering What Will and Won't Fly

Suzanne Smith waits for her flight at BWI airport. With stepped-up security checks, travelers have been advised to show up earlier.
Suzanne Smith waits for her flight at BWI airport. With stepped-up security checks, travelers have been advised to show up earlier. (By Andrea Bruce -- The Washington Post)
By Annys Shin and Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, August 18, 2006

If the past few days are any guide, travelers at Washington area airports this weekend will encounter shorter lines than feared but more confusion than expected.

As passengers made their way through the first week of a ban on carrying liquids aboard airplanes, they discovered that the landscape had shifted, in sometimes unpredictable ways. One woman found her single lipstick was fine in a carry-on; her colleague's four tubes of designer lip gloss were not. A baby with milk passed muster. A mom with a bottle of breast milk -- but no baby -- did not. Gel heels, yes; gel inserts, no. And don't even think about a bagel and cream cheese.

With an increase in the volume of checked baggage, more and more business travelers found themselves making the acquaintance of baggage carousels. The number of checked bags has risen 40 percent since Aug. 10 on Delta Air Lines, though other airlines reported lower figures.

Signs on the roads leading to Dulles International Airport warned against liquids, and more signs inside the terminal listed specific items that could not be carried on -- gels, toothpaste and shampoo among them -- but that didn't mean every security official would interpret the list in the same way.

On Monday, Carolyn Jondahl of Fairfax cleared security at Dulles with lipstick in her carry-on bag. But when her colleague Shelley Davenport of Vienna went through, security screeners confiscated four Laura Mercier lip gloss sticks worth more than $100.

"There doesn't seem to be consistency in the policy," Davenport said.

When the two women returned Wednesday from their business trip to Montgomery, Ala., they decided not to take any chances, so they checked everything and waited 30 minutes for their luggage instead of zipping out of the airport.

"So it's inconvenient," Jondahl said.

During the week, the Transportation Security Administration eased restrictions on medication and refined the list of forbidden items as travelers appealed for clarification. Despite the list of 33 items, now including liquid bubble bath and hair detangler, interpreting the ban fell largely to frontline security officers, with varying outcomes.

Beth B. Nolley of Vienna said she couldn't believe it when a gate agent at the Orlando airport warned passengers over the public address system that bagels with cream cheese would not be allowed onboard.

"Some teenage girls sitting next to me said: 'No cream cheese? Is the world coming to an end?' That's pretty much how I felt, too," she said.

When Nolley flew out of Dulles on Saturday, security officials confiscated her crystal rock deodorant. When she arrived at her mother's home in Florida, she bought duplicate toiletries to leave there for her next visit.

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