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Carry-On Rules May Clog Holiday Air Travel


Travelers at airports around the country are slowing down this holiday weekend. Thanks to a lot of flyers and also to new carry-on restrictions. And it's not the road warrior or business travelers who are going through the TSA lines, it's casual flyers, who may not have encountered the new regulations before.

Here's NPR's Kathleen Schalch.

KATHLEEN SCHALCH: The passengers at Washington Dallas International Airport seemed to know the drill. They pop open their laptops, flip off their shoes and fling keys into plastic tray. Still, every few seconds it happens.

Unidentified Man #1: Hey.

Unidentified Woman: Hey, check out the baggage.

SCHALCH: Security officials have to pull someone out of line, someone bearing a liquid gel or aerosol spray.

Ms. TARA HAMILTON (Public Affairs Manager, Washington D.C. Metropolitan Airport Authority): There is a certain amount of confusion. The seasoned traveler and the business traveler - we're seeing that even those road warriors are not quite clear on what's permitted and not permitted.

SCHALCH: Tara Hamilton of the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Airport Authority says one reason is that the rules have changed. Liquids and gels were banned after the discovery of an alleged plot to blow up airplanes with liquid explosives. Now, those rules are relaxed, a bit.

TSA's spokeswoman Ellen Howe says containers must be 3 ounces or less and they must be in a one-cork, zip-locked plastic bag.

Ms. ELLEN HOWE (Transportation Security Administration): And one bag per passenger and that needs to be pulled out and declared in your shoe bin or winter jackets as you get to the check point.

Unidentified Man #2: The following restrictions apply to liquids (unintelligible) and or aerosols when entering the sterile areas. There's a passenger lane checkpoint.

SCHALCH: Despite signs and messages blaring from TV monitors, the trashcans at Dallas Airport security checkpoints are overflowing with banned items. Airport official Terry Hamilton says people make it all the way up to the front of the line and then find out there's a problem.

Ms. HOWE: They either are bringing liquids and gels that are in larger containers or they're putting them loose in their carry-on bag. When their bags goes through the screening device it shows these items. The TSA have to, according to their protocol, open that bag and search it.

SCHALCH: As you see the way passenger Paula Martin has made a common mistake. She left her zip-lock bag inside her suitcase.

Ms. PAULA MARTIN: I have to take my little zip-lock bag with liquid Zap and put them in the tray. Then there was a little small water bottle that they threw away. I had that in my pocket.

SCHALCH: On a typical workday, crowds are lighter than on holidays and most are business travelers, travelers like Claudia Calloway. She waits in line at Reagan National Airport in Washington with her plastic bag tucked under her arm.

Ms. CLAUDIA CALLOWAY: I have a lot of face products that I just purchased that if I have to throw away and my husband found out how much I paid because I have to throw them away, I'd probably have to cut up my credit card.

SCHALCH: But many holiday travelers won't be prepared like Calloway, says airport official Tara Hamilton.

Ms. HAMILTON: And there's a snowball effect that all the passengers behind also are delayed.

SCHALCH: Hamilton says they may miss their planes and find no space on later flights. So the TSA is urging travelers to check it's Web site, tsa.gov and arrive prepared. Agency spokeswoman Ellen Howe offers this rule of thumb.

Ms. HOWE: If you can pour it, pump it, squeeze it, spread it, mere it, spray it or spill it, then it is a liquid or a gel.

SCHALCH: What if you have a pumpkin pie?

Ms. HOWE: Yeah. I think that would be considered a gel.

SCHALCH: People don't have to throw out banned items. They can leave the line and check the bag. However, Howe does not recommend it for pumpkin pie.

Kathleen Schalch, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kathleen Schalch
Kathleen Schalch is a general assignment reporter on NPR's national desk. Her coverage can be heard on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.