Terrorist Plot: Effect on Consumer Travel and Airline Industry

Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer and Columnist
Friday, August 11, 2006; 12:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer and "Business Class" columnist Keith L. Alexander was online Friday, Aug. 11, at Noon ET to discuss the impact of the terrorist plot on summer and fall travel and the financial implications on the airline industry.

A Shock That Wore Off ( Post, Aug. 11 )

A transcript follows.


Keith L. Alexander: Hello everyone. Thanks for spending your lunch hours with us. It's been a crazy couple of days, so let's get into this shall we?


New York: I heard that drinks purchased after going through airport security need to be consumed before getting on board. Is the same apply to cosmetics such as toner and cream that are purchased at duty-free shop inside of airports?

Keith L. Alexander: Hello New York. Yes, this is correct. You will have to drink your beverage at the gate. There will be TSA officials (and in some cities, local law officials) who will be performing additional gate checks of passengers' carry-ons to make sure people are not taking a beverage or liquid onto the flight. However, the airlines say flight attendants will provide a beverage if you need one before they begin their official in-flight beverage service.


Tuscarora, Md.: My husband and I are planning to travel at the end of Sept. on British Airways to England and then to France. Should we continue/change our plans based on recent events?

Thank you

Keith L. Alexander: That sounds like a wonderful vacation!! I see no reason why you should cancel your trip. First, one of the biggest lessons yesterday's events showed us was that U.S. and British authorities are aggressively monitoring any and all potential terrorism activity. The only thing you have to keep in mind (because you are flying to Europe) is you won't be able to take any electronic equipment, cell phones, pagers, laptops, etc with you on the flight. Enjoy!


Washington D.C.: I don't fly that frequently, and maybe this was the only solution that could be come up with, but the thing I CAN'T STAND is the sheer waste of all the personal care products that have now been thrown in the trash. Just thinking about all this crap in our landfills makes me ill. Thank you.

Keith L. Alexander: Honestly, it would be great if a lot of those items are sent to shelters in local cities rather than just discarded.


Alexandria, Va.: Bad for airlines, good for AMTRAK?

Given the hassle of flying these days, it may take as long to fly, say, from Washington to Boston, as it does to drive. How big an impact do you see on the short haul business of the airlines?

Keith L. Alexander: This is a good point. We'll see what happens. Remember, following 9/11, many travelers between New York and DC flocked to Amtrak rather than having to deal with long security lines at National. I know some business travelers who have not returned to the shuttles since.


Reston, Va.: Will businesses move to replace most travel with video-conferencing and the Internet? Will the TSA actually ban laptops in airliners? What will happen to the proposal to allow cell phone usage in flight?

Keith L. Alexander: Okay, a number of questions here. Let me try to hit each one in order.

a) I don't think yesterday's events will lead more companies to video-conferencing over traveling. Those companies that use video conferencing use it to cut costs, mostly, not reduce travel hassles.

b)unlikely TSA will ban laptops anytime soon. Airlines will have a fit because their best customers, business travelers, will be highly inconvenienced. But again, if a more serious threat occurs and laptops are used, than I am sure laptops would be banned.

c) It looks like cell phones will be on flights probably in about two or three years. That should be fun.


Gaithersburg, Md.: Do you think we'll see any move by the government towards requiring the airlines to provide same-day replacement for items if they lose your luggage (e.g., the contact lens fluid that people need to use every day but now can't take in carry-on luggage)?

Keith L. Alexander: I doubt it. The airline's arguments would be that they inform passengers about what they can and cannot take on flights via Web sites and reservation numbers. So the information is out there.


Washington, D.C.: As a frequent flyer, I've canceled all my air travel through the end of the year and plan to spend a lovely weekend at the local Mandarin Oriental with $189 rate for locals.

Keith L. Alexander: Through the end of the year hunh? That's what airlines fear most. Are there any other business travelers out there canceling trips? If so, please email at


Washington, D.C.: Hi. Can customers wear clothing with gels built into them? I'm flying to see my fiance (after a long separation) and wondered if it was safe to wear a gel bra, or if that would be an issue. On a related note, are breast implants an issue? And if either are, how would TSA handle it? Thanks!

Keith L. Alexander: Uh, okay. Something tells me that because you don't really have easy access to the liquid, you should be fine? But if I find out otherwise, I'll make sure to let you all know. (I am assuming this is a serious question)


New York, N.Y.: Don't they now insist checked bags NOT be locked for further spot inspection? If I pack my cell phone or other electronic equipment, how will I be assured they'll be there when I pick up my bag at my destination!?

Keith L. Alexander: That's a great question. According to the TSA, electronic devices are still allowed. But double check with the TSA Web site if you are flying internationally to make sure in case things change.


New York, N.Y.: For how long can we not travel on airplanes with liquids? And when they allow liquids again will it be because it is no longer a threat, or because we have forgotten about the threat?

Keith L. Alexander: This was the NO. 1 question that we reporters asked TSA officials and airlines and we were not able to get an actual answer. There seems to be no end date for banning liquids as of now. It will probably last as long as the threat alerts remain high.

_______________________ TSA


Falls Church, Va.: What are the chances we'll see a "no carry-on baggage" policy implemented in the U.S. like they did in the U.K.? Personally, I wouldn't mind seeing that happen ... I'm so sick of people bringing large bags or too much stuff on board.

Keith L. Alexander: There are numerous travelers out there who actually seem to prefer a no carry-on baggage policy. I am told that some airlines are actually considering this policy on flights longer than 1,000 miles. We'll see what happens.


Washington, D.C.: re: "I've canceled all my air travel through the end of the year."

I don't understand the logic of this. If anything, now is the best time to travel because the authorities are being vigilant.

Keith L. Alexander: good point.


Washington, D.C.: Keith,

Could you recommend a good Web site to keep up with the status of security lines at various airports. I'm flying out of BWI today and I sure don't want to get there three hours early if I don't have to.

Keith L. Alexander: Actually the TSA's Web site,, has that information for most of the major and secondary airports nationwide. Go to the site and in the right hand search field, type in "security checkpoint wait times" the actual page will come up and it will ask you which state, airport and day and time of day you are flying.


Washington, D.C.: Does the liquid ban mean the airlines won't serve beverages on flights anymore? And if they do, how is that not a threat?

Keith L. Alexander: Airlines are required to serve beverages to passengers for numerous reasons. However, my colleague Sara Goo just informed me that one of her sources says that travelers are complaining that airlines are running out of water on flights.


New York: I heard that drinks purchased after going through airport security need to be consumed before getting on board. Does the same apply to cosmetics such as toner and cream that are purchased at duty-free shop inside of airports?

Keith L. Alexander: The TSA really seems unclear about this, even if you go to their Web site. Here's their language. "If you are in doubt about an item, please leave it at home or place in your checked baggage or the item may be intercepted at the security checkpoint." Helpful hunh? So my response would be if it looks like a liquid, shakes like a liquid, at least for now, you might want to check it.


Largo, Md.: Once passengers clear the security checkpoint, will they be able to purchase food/drink from airport vendors and take that on board?

Keith L. Alexander: no. drink at the gate. but feel free to carry your food on the flight and make all the rest of us hungry.


Switzerland: Hi. I am in Europe now and flying home on Monday to Washington, D.C., with my three small children. Not young enough to need juice, but small enough to need to water/milk/feed frequently over the 12-hour period we will be on the plane (and the likely 3-hour wait to get through customs at Dulles!). I am hopeful that airlines will be conscious of this, and hand waters out as we walk on the plane, but I am more worried about the rumor that carry-ons are going to be banned. Is this possible? Probable? Thanks for your help!

Keith L. Alexander: Hello Switzerland. No carry ons on flights between Europe and the U.S. as of now. I think the terror alert threat would have to increase again before carry-ons are banned in the U.S. On a 12 hour flight, I am sure any flight attendant will understand that not only children, but even adults, need to remain hydrated. If you have trouble, let us know. I am sure we would like to write a story on the airline that doesn't hand out beverages to passengers on such a long flight.


Vienna, Va.: What airline can now guarantee that all of my new baggage is going to arrive at my destination on time and without robbery by one of their own personnel?

Keith L. Alexander: The only things airlines are guaranteeing these days is to arrive at your destination safely.


Portland, Maine: I agree with Washington, D.C., about the questionable logic of canceling all air travel now. My dad flew to Europe on business the week after Sept. 11. Sure, I was worried about him, but he says that with all the heightened security immediately post-9/11, he'd never felt as safe on a plane before.

Keith L. Alexander: Thank you Portland.


Washington, D.C.: Where can we get clarification if specific items are banned? For example, I've read accounts of some travelers having their stick deodorant or lipstick taken from them. These items are certainly not of liquid, gel, cream, paste, etc., consistencies. The TSA FAQs say nothing about these types of items. Are these just rogue checkpoint agents on a power trip? Also, will TSA come under pressure from various constituencies of the airline industry? Airlines are now forced to handle millions more pieces of luggage with all of the items that now have to be checked. The ban on taking even certain items bought in the sterile area onboard will destroy the duty-free revenue. Any insights into how long this hysteria will last? New Rules at the Airport What the Threat Means for Travelers ( Post, Aug. 11 )

Keith L. Alexander: From what I am hearing from travelers, there does seem to be a little confusion between what the TSA says and how that is translated down to the actual employee on the front line, depending on the airport, time of day, etc. But yesterday was a very difficult day and I am sure (hopeful) that things will smooth out over the next few days.


Daytona Beach, Fla.: They showed men with their belongings in plastic bags, but what are women to do with their handbags? Should they pack them in the checked luggage? What about over the counter pills, such as aspirin? Can a bottle of these be taken on the plane? I am going to London next week.

Keith L. Alexander: Make sure you double check the TSA Web site before you fly to London next week. Policies could change by then. In the meantime, as of now, you should be able to carry your items in a carry-on to London, but returning, your personal items have to be in a clear plastic bag so security officials can see what you are carrying. Aspirin is not a liquid, so that should be fine.


Alexandria, Va.: Have you heard any problem of pens being banned since they either contain gel or water-based ink.

Keith L. Alexander: Not as of yet. I would feel sorry for security personnel who had to examine each and every ink pen. I would also feel sorry for the folks standing in line behind that traveler with the pen.

_______________________ TSA


Washington, D.C.: Are Chapstick and hand wipes included on the banned list too? Will a more comprehensive list of banned items come out or will this be lifted in the next few days?

Keith L. Alexander: your lips will be safe. As will your hands. No bans on Chapstick or hand wipes as of yet. It would be helpful to many passengers if the TSA provided a more comprehensive list. Again, it's the TSA, not the airlines, that are implementing these restrictions.


Harrisburg, Pa.: I'm on a gluten-free diet and have to take food with me on flights since most of the airlines no longer provide gluten-free meal options (and those that only provide "snacks" never did). What foods may I take with me (in a soft-sided cooler) and how can I keep them cool?

Keith L. Alexander: Hello Harrisburg, It seems to me that if you were able to take food with you in a cooler before, I don't see why you should not be able to carry food with you in a cooler now. Again, foods are ok, beverages are not.


Mountain View, Calif.: Follow-up:

As of this morning, B.A. (check their Web site) is enforcing U.K. carry-on restrictions both from 'and to' the U.K. That means no carry-ons other than the ones they allow in a plastic bag, a very stringent list. British Airways

Keith L. Alexander: Thank you Mountain View. British Airways is indeed enforcing no carry-ons to and from the U.K. Again, check with your airline because these rules are changing daily. And actually yesterday, they were changing hourly. Literally.


Arlington, Va.: Do you have any information about asthma inhalers? They are a prescription drug, but the prescription information comes on the box containing the inhaler, which is commonly thrown away. Have there been any anecdotal reports of people being told to discard their inhalers?

Keith L. Alexander: No reports on people being forced to throw out inhalers. Seems to me no airline or government agency would want to be liable for such a decision that could seriously affect someone's life.


Keith L. Alexander: Folks, I'm sorry I couldn't get to all of your questions and comments. Thank you again for taking the time to post your comments and questions and please keep reading the Post during the next few days where we will try to answer and address many of your concerns.


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