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Latest Airport Security Rules Trip Up Travelers

Passengers discover the end of a ban on carry-on liquids doesn't mean shampoo gets a free ride.

September 27, 2006|Ashraf Khalil | Times Staff Writer

Dave Johnson heard about the new flight safety rules as he was preparing to leave for Washington, D.C. He thought he had come to Los Angeles International Airport properly prepared, with all his toiletries in a large plastic sack the size of a freezer storage bag.

But when he reached the X-ray line, the security checker did a double-take.

"Whoa! OK, sir that's much too big! That's much larger than we allow."

"Well, do you have a smaller one?" asked Johnson, a 65-year-old program manager with the Navy.

"Sorry, we don't supply the bags, sir."

"Well, where can I get one?"

Nowhere at the airport, actually, and Johnson was forced to rush back to the ticket counter to check one of his carry-on bags along with the toiletries.

As Johnson left, the man who had been behind him in line held up a similarly oversized plastic bag and said, "I probably have the same problem."

On the first day of the relaxed transportation safety rules, travelers and security personnel at LAX spent much of the morning working through minor kinks and confusion caused by the new guidelines.

Though liquids and gels such as shampoo, toothpaste and shaving cream now are allowed in carry-on bags, no bottles, tubes or jars larger than 3 ounces are permitted and all must fit into a clear plastic container the size of a quart bag.

Many travelers simply heard the words "clear bag" and assumed that any clear bag would do.

Others brought several clear bags packed with things, but only one per person is allowed.

"Basically, you can bring anything you want as long as it's 3 ounces and as long as it's in a Baggie," said a Transportation Security Administration checker named Chris, who declined to give his full name because of agency regulations. Passengers are allowed to bring on more than 3 ounces of medicine or infant formula if they receive clearance from the TSA checker on the scene.

"By tomorrow, the word will be out through the media and everything will be better," Chris said.

On Tuesday, however, many people had either misunderstood the clear-bag rule or misjudged how much the restrictions had been eased.

"I assumed that today all the restrictions were gone," said a man flying home to San Francisco. He had bought a travel-sized tube of toothpaste the night before but had no plastic bag to put it in.

"I'm going to take it up there and see if they'll let me through," said the passenger, who declined to give his name.

TSA spokesman Nico Melendez spent several hours at LAX on Tuesday morning and said the new travel measures didn't seem to create significant additional delays or longer lines. He encouraged all travelers to check the TSA's website, www.tsa.gov for precise information on the new rules.

"We expect a bit of a learning curve," Melendez said. "Whenever we do something like this, it's a couple days' process to get the word out and get everyone on the same page."

The lack of available plastic bags at the airport created a bit of a bottleneck. Anthony Bourke, who had flown into L.A. early Tuesday, noted that airport officials in San Francisco were passing out plastic bags to travelers who needed them.

More than one traveler said a clever entrepreneur could have made good money by simply bringing sandwich bags to the airport and selling them for $1 each.

Still, a healthy percentage of the passengers did show up in step with the new rules. One man, who described himself as a "120,000-mile-per-year traveler," came with a regulation-sized plastic bag that even bore his initials in black marker.

Most of the others, however, were in the clear simply because they had long since abandoned taking any liquids or gels onto the plane.

"I'm traveling every week," said Marion Lowry, who was flying to San Francisco, "and I've come to the conclusion that I'm just bringing no toiletries, no belt, and wearing slip-on shoes."

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ashraf.khalil@latimes.com

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