Airport Security Adjusts To New Rules on Liquids

By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Security was relatively smooth at U.S. airports yesterday, as travelers adjusted to new rules allowing them to bring aboard planes small amounts of liquids and gels in their carry-on bags. But it took some flexibility on the part of authorities to make things work. Many people did not know about revisions to month-long rules banning most liquids and gels from passenger cabins.

For example, consider Ted Koppel and the requirement that containers of 3 ounces or less had to fit easily into clear plastic bags.

The former host of ABC's "Nightline" arrived at Washington's Reagan National Airport yesterday morning for a flight to Dallas without a clear plastic bag and a too-large tube of toothpaste in his shaving kit.

A supervisor with the Transportation Security Administration rushed to the rescue. She gave Koppel the necessary plastic bag and determined that he had already used enough of the toothpaste to meet the new limits for such gels. He put the tube into the plastic bag and sailed through security.

Under the rules that went into effect yesterday morning, passengers are allowed to board with small amounts of toiletries in containers of 3 ounces or less, as long as the items are visible in a clear plastic 1-quart bag. The bags have to be pulled out of carry-on luggage to be examined separately at security checkpoints. Under the new rules, passengers may purchase drinks in secure areas and bring those aboard planes.

The TSA banned nearly all liquids and gels from passenger cabins in August after British authorities said they uncovered a terrorist plot to blow up transatlantic airliners with liquid bombs. Large containers of liquids and gels still must be checked or left behind, officials said.

TSA officials said they eased the rules because they had studied the threat and were confident that the revisions balanced the risk of attack against inconvenience for travelers.

TSA officials said they worked hard yesterday to help travelers make it through security, even if they didn't meet the letter of the new requirements.

"It went great today," said Kip Hawley, director of the TSA, before speaking at the Aero Club of Washington's monthly luncheon. "Everything I have heard suggests it went smoothly across the country . . . We worked with the security officers so they have discretion, particularly on the first day."

Hawley said officials rolled out the revisions on a Tuesday because it usually is one the least busy for passengers. Security lines were fairly short at National yesterday morning.

Rob Yingling, a spokesman for the Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority, which runs National and Washington Dulles International airports, declined to comment on security lines at either airport or how the new rules affected travelers. He referred calls to the TSA. Security lines "moved very efficiently" at Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport, an airport spokesman said.

At National, passengers said they were happy that the TSA eased the restrictions, though several didn't know about the changes until they were told by a reporter.

Susan Garfield, 33, a director of women's health for a biotech company, called the original ban a "pain in the rear end" because it forced her to check her luggage and wait 40 minutes at the carousel after her flight.

But Garfield said her frustration largely evaporated yesterday when she packed her toothpaste, lip gloss and nail polish into a clear cosmetics bag with a zipper -- technically, a violation of the new rules -- and whipped through security at Boston's Logan International Airport.

"This seems like a much better approach," Garfield said.

Elliot Kash, 34, a salesman for a car-rental agency who travels between New York and the District twice a week, said he heard about the revisions yesterday and immediately bought a small silver mesh case for his toiletries -- not the clear bag the TSA requires.

Screeners at LaGuardia Airport allowed him to pass through security anyway, he said. As he opened his luggage to show a reporter the bag at National, he realized that he had toothpaste, spray-on deodorant and some cream jammed in other parts of his bag -- missed or ignored by the screeners. He said he had forgotten the items were there.

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