What Can Be Carried On?
As air travel begins to return to normal — if long lines, canceled flights and confusion at airport security checkpoints can be considered normal (and, yes, sadly, they can) — airline passengers can only wonder what the long-term effect of last week’s terror scare will be.
Will they really be prevented from bringing a bottle of water or a tube of toothpaste on board ever again? And just how draconian will the next wave of carry-on rules be?
Though no airlines have called for an all-out ban on carry-on bags, a few, including Northwest and Virgin Atlantic, are urging passengers to check all luggage as a way to expedite the security process instituted by the Transportation Security Administration last week.
So far, the agency has not said which changes will be temporary and which will be permanent. “They will be in place as long as we think they’re necessary,” said Carrie Harmon, a spokeswoman. And as airports and regulators struggle with how to examine efficiently the flood of cabin baggage that passengers want bring on board, security rules are expected to continue to shift.
Over the weekend, the agency slightly loosened its strict ban on liquids, lotions and gels in carry-on bags and began permitting four-ounce containers of nonprescription liquid medications like eye drops and saline solutions through security checkpoints and onto planes. And Monday, the British Department of Transport, which had barred all carry-on items except for personal essentials like passports and eyeglasses, said passengers would now be allowed one item of hand luggage, the equivalent of a small briefcase or handbag. Electronic equipment including cell phones, laptops, digital cameras and iPods would again be allowed on board. (Up-to-date information about United States carry-on rules is on the Transportation Security Administration’s Web site at www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/prohibited/new-items.shtm; British updates are on www.baa.com.)
Though no one is saying it outright, it seems clear that the ban on such things as bottled water or perfume — even if bought at an airport shop once you have gone through security — suggests a lack of faith in the effectiveness of the current screening process. After all, if you have been screened and cleared by the security guards after arriving at the airport, why are you not then permitted to buy a sealed bottle of water at one of the airport shops beyond the security station? (Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff tacitly acknowledged a lack of full confidence in the screening when he announced on Sunday that he intended to replace contractors who inspect passenger identification documents at airport checkpoints with Transportation Security staff members.)
“There is not one silver bullet,” said Carrie Harmon, an agency spokeswoman, who stressed that the administration was taking “a flexible, unpredictable multi-layered approach” to airport security. She added, “No one layer is 100 percent foolproof 100 percent of the time at all airports.”
The Transportation Security Administration has begun permitting duty-free items if they are delivered directly onto the aircraft, though they will have to go into checked bags when changing planes from international to domestic flights.
How much the rules will be further loosened is unclear. After all, it took four years for Homeland Security to lift the post-9/11 ban on nail clippers and small scissors. Passengers might be allowed, for instance, to carry on small bottles of perfume or perhaps other substances that pose little security threat because of their size. Or secure beverages could be labeled as such.
Experts say an all-out ban on carry-on luggage is unlikely because it could cause a major backlash from the lucrative business-travel segment. “We will probably see calls from Congresspeople to bar all carry-ons, to ban all laptops and cell phones,” said Michael J. Boyd, president of an aviation and security consulting firm in Evergreen, Colo. “If it happens, it will materially change the value of air travel for business people.”
A ban on carry-on bags might ease the time it takes to get through security, with fewer items for screeners to check, and bring an end to the battle for overhead bin space, but it could also mean more lines at check-in.
Whatever the new security measures, airline advocates are urging rule makers to take passengers into account. “We recognize if the process becomes too inconvenient customers will just quit flying,” said David A. Castelveter, a spokesman for the Air Transportation Association. “We saw that happen after 9/11 and we cannot allow that to happen again.”
For now, to check or not to check is the question on many travelers’ minds.
Molly Lyons, 31, a literary agent in New York, is reluctantly checking everything except some books and her contact-lens case for a flight to Rome on Tuesday. “All my toiletries are going in the checked bag, which makes me nervous because I don’t want to get to Italy and have my bags be lost,” she said. “It’s just not the way I want to kick off my vacation.”
Some travelers are avoiding check-in altogether by shipping their luggage ahead of them. Karen Warner, a marketing consultant from Pacific Palisades, Calif., now pays Luggage Forward about $150 to ship her carry-on bag ahead on her frequent flights from Los Angeles to Boston. “It gives me lots of options when I get to the airport,” she said. “If you don’t have a bag it’s a lot faster.”
Another advantage, she said, is that unlike passengers with checked bags that must remain on the flight their luggage is booked for, if her flight is delayed or she arrives at the airport early she can stand by for another flight. Now, given the new security ban on liquids and gels on planes, Ms. Warner is considering a shipment of toiletries to Zurich for a European trip to avoid wasting valuable sightseeing time searching for contact lens solution.
A growing number of travel companies have partnered with Baggage Airline Guest Services in Orlando to allow travelers to print airline-boarding passes, and to check in and drop off their luggage for domestic flights at remote locations. The service is available aboard ships of various cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Norwegian, as well as at the Disney resorts and hotels in Orlando, Fla., and a growing number of convention centers throughout the United States. For $10 per person, travelers can check in and drop off their luggage for all the major airlines up to 24 hours in advance. Baggage is then transported directly to the departure airport and passengers do not have to deal with their luggage until they land at their final destination.
Since the new security rules began last week, “our checked baggage jumped by 30 to 40 percent,” said Craig Mateer, chief executive of Baggage Airline Guest Services. “All the hotel chains we’re working with to start the program are calling and saying let’s speed this up.”
Hotels are also stocking up on extra toothpaste and other toiletries and supplying them free to guests. In the Florida Keys, guests of Little Palm Island can call ahead and tell the resort what toiletries they want in the room. In New York, the Exchange Hotel is giving guests a $25 gift card to the Duane Reade drug store, and at the Lemon Tree Inn in Naples, Fla., and Hotel Caravelle in St. Croix, the Virgin Islands, there is an honor bar where guests can take just what they need from deodorant to toothpaste.
Others are taking advantage of the situation to promote themselves. Jurys Washington Hotel is offering a $299 Liquid Infusion Package that includes the usual toiletries with hydrating facial products, and a choice of sparkling or flat water presented in an ice bucket at check in. The following morning guests get a continental breakfast complete with a fresh fruit smoothie. Autor: Michelle Higgins