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Air Travelers Discovering What Will and Won't Fly

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.

Dineen Pashoukos Wasylik, a lawyer based near Tampa, confronted another wrinkle: what to do when you're breast feeding but traveling without your baby.

She brought a breast pump on a trip Tuesday to Fort Lauderdale so she could express milk for her 7-month-old son. She checked the pump along with a few ice packs and blushed when she told her older, male boss, "I'm really sorry, but I have to check this bag because of the liquids ban."

On the way back to Tampa, she ran into the Fort Lauderdale airport restroom to pump while her boss dropped off the rental car, then packed the milk with the ice and ran to check it again.

"It really was very stressful," she said.

Doug Clarke, general manager of the SuperShuttle that serves Dulles and Reagan National airports, said the company was picking up passengers 30 to 45 minutes earlier than before -- noon for a person in downtown D.C. with a 3 p.m. flight at Dulles.

Travelers have been complaining about the extra time, said Mohamed Bah, a SuperShuttle franchise owner. "But when we get them," he said, "they are still worried they will get there on time because of long lines."

When Kimberly De Vine, a consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., heard she had to arrive two hours early for her usual 6 a.m. Delta Shuttle to New York, she decided to fly up the night before, and she left behind her ink pen and mascara.

"The idea of having to arrive two hours before my normal flight was not something I was even willing to consider," she said.

In an attempt to keep lines at security moving, some airlines have been urging passengers to check bags. Delta's efforts on its Web site and through e-mails and its reservation line resulted in as much as a 40 percent increase since Aug. 10, spokeswoman Gina Laughlin said.

AirTran Airways has had a 20 percent increase, spokeswoman Judy Graham-Weaver said. So has ATA Airlines. Others have noticed a larger volume but did not have figures to document it.

The volume has produced longer waits at baggage claim, but it's too early to know whether that will also mean more lost or damaged suitcases. The Department of Transportation, which tracks complaints of "mishandled" luggage, won't release August data until early October

Despite the heavier flow, a handful of airlines, including Delta, Southwest and Virgin Atlantic, have increased the number of baggage handlers. Northwest is offering overtime pay to cope with the increased workload, spokesman Dean Breest said.

Mostly, people are resigned to their new circumstances.

Former Baltimore Orioles slugger Ken Singleton, now a broadcast analyst for the New York Yankees, took a seat on a bench inside Terminal D at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport on Wednesday morning with more than two hours to go before a flight to Rochester, N.Y. A resident of Baltimore, Singleton came early, in part to avoid traffic. He was also checking a bag he normally would have taken onboard.

"Things have changed," he said. "You do what you have to do."

Staff writers Dina ElBoghdady and Cecilia Kang contributed to this report.

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