Will Long Lines Be in the Bag This Thanksgiving?

It could be a tough season when the volume of travelers soars later this month for Thanksgiving.


'They won't have a clue'

The growing lines have prompted the TSA to launch a national public education campaign in the media, on its website () and at airports to help passengers obey the liquids rules.

Major airports such as Atlanta and Las Vegas McCarran are waging their own education campaigns with press conferences, videos shown in area hotels and staff inside the airport telling passengers what they can take aboard.

Despite the outreach, says Randy Walker, director of Las Vegas McCarran, "I think this holiday season will be problematic." Airports nationally "will be getting a lot of people who haven't traveled since all this happened, and they won't have a clue."

At Las Vegas airport last week, passenger Tracy Parks was surprised by the plastic bag rule.

"I just don't understand the baggie," said Parks, a therapist from Kansas City, Mo. He and his friend, Brian Thompson, were stopped from carrying bottled water and cologne in their carry-on bags, and had to check them.

"Now that I know about the baggie, I will use the baggie," Parks said.

Walker says a passenger recently showed up at a checkpoint there carrying a bottle of whiskey. He told the screeners it was exempt from the rules, and insisted the screeners just wanted it for themselves. Eventually, the man relinquished it.

In New Orleans, TSA says, a passenger arrived at a checkpoint with a pint-size bottle of hot sauce. In Atlanta, a woman showed up with so many little bottles of liquor that they wouldn't all fit inside a one-quart zip-top bag.

When the screeners told her she couldn't take them all through the checkpoint, she drank three of the bottles and took the rest aboard.

According to the TSA, passengers are still showing up at checkpoints with full-size containers of toiletries inside their carry-on luggage. Other passengers don't have their little toiletries inside a zip-top bag, or they have a bag that's much bigger than a quart.

Still others are failing to remove the bag containing the toiletries from their carry-ons before X-ray screening. That forces the screeners to hand check the bag on the other side of the X-ray, slowing down the line.

Passengers "are doing it innocently," says Williams, the Atlanta security official. "They're not trying to sneak something through."

Large bottles of liquids, no matter how costly or important to the traveler, must be discarded before the checkpoint -- or the suitcase must be checked.

The evolution of the liquid ban

The liquids crisis began Aug. 10. British authorities arrested more than 20 men in London believed to be plotting to blow up U.S.-bound trans-Atlantic jets using liquid explosives taken onto planes in carry-on luggage.

The TSA and its counterpart in Britain abruptly banned all liquids and gels from carry-ons. Only baby formula and prescription medicines were exempt.

The ban initially gridlocked airports and forced most passengers to check their luggage, because liquids were still allowed in checked luggage. The resulting surge in checked luggage overwhelmed some luggage systems, contributing to a 26% year-over-year spike in the rate of complaints about mishandled luggage in August.

Responding to appeals from airlines and business traveler groups, the TSA on Sept. 25 revised the rules to allow small quantities of toiletries through checkpoints. Now, passengers may bring typical travel items such as shampoo, toothpaste and makeup through security checkpoints, provided they're in 3-ounce or smaller containers that all fit inside a 1-quart clear plastic zip-top bag. Only one bag per passenger is allowed. TSA calls this the 3-1-1 rule. Most drugstores stock popular toiletries in small travel sizes.

A zip-top bag containing the toiletries must be removed from a carry-on suitcase and placed in a separate tray prior to screening.

Airport stores in Atlanta, Dallas/Fort Worth and elsewhere are selling zip-top plastic bags for 50 cents apiece. Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, Calif., is more generous: It's giving away 6,000 bags this season.

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