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TIA fliers adapt quickly

A day after a terror plot prompted tighter rules, most passengers play along.

Published August 11, 2006

TAMPA — Travelers tossed out 4,000 pounds of toothpaste, mouthwash, hair gel and hand lotion.

Checked baggage increased more than 25 percent.

And sales of merchandise plummeted 20 percent.

That was Tampa International Airport on Thursday, the first day under new carry-on restrictions prompted by a terrorist plot to blow up flights between the United Kingdom and the United States.

By Friday, passengers were adapting.

“It’s no big deal,” said Chris Hardaway, 34, of White Plains, N.Y., as he waited to board a flight for Chicago. “I open a bottle and tip it toward the floor. If the stuff inside forms a puddle, I don’t bring it with me.”

Hardaway smiled at his joke and added, “I can deal with not carrying coffee aboard as long as they don’t go to the extreme of taking my laptop and cell phone away.”

TIA was much quieter Friday than Thursday, even though Friday is a much busier travel day.
During peak flight times, lines were long at ticket counters where passengers checked more bags than normal. But waits in security lines dipped from a high of 95 minutes on Thursday to a high of 35 minutes on Friday.

“The flip side of longer lines at baggage check-in is quicker trips through security, since people are carrying less aboard airplanes,” said Louis Miller, executive director of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority.

Airports and airlines across the country reported increases in the volume of checked bags because of new rules forbidding passengers from taking anything liquid or gelatinous onto their flights.

But the additional bags did not cause major problems.

Southwest Airlines brought in extra baggage handlers and customer service agents, much as it does on holidays.

And Delta Air Lines waived fees for checking a third bag and overweight bags on Thursday and Friday flights.

No one could quantify the increase nationally in checked baggage.  On a normal Thursday at TIA, generally a slow travel day, 19,000 to 20,000 checked bags go through screening. This Thursday, the airport baggage system handled 26,000 bags.

“It went fine,” Miller said.

Travelers seem to be getting the message about the new restrictions. Every security point has large trash bins where passengers can dump forbidden items.

On Friday, most of the trash consisted of empty water bottles and soft drink cups. And collections were way down from Thursday, when passengers were dumping every liquid, paste, gel, ointment, aerosol, oil and wax.

Two tons were left behind.

“I would have loved to give a lot of the stuff to coalitions for the homeless, so it would go to people who could use it,” Miller said. “But it wasn’t sanitary. So we put it in the trash compactor and shipped it to the dump.”

Not all forbidden items went to the dump. Travelers aid stations at TIA, which normally help people make long-distance calls and arrange for the delivery of money, accepted designer makeup and high-end perfumes that passengers wanted mailed back to them.

Travelers aid also gave out dozens of packets of single-serving powdered baby formula to parents concerned they would have to toss their child’s liquid diet.

“They always have those services available, but they told us they never had a call for them like this before,” airport spokeswoman Brenda Geoghagan said.

Most people seemed to accept the additional inconvenience caused by the new restrictions. Some grumbled.
Sylvia Lichtenrerger, 46, a clinical researcher, had traveled to Tampa from Chapel Hill, N.C., with a Chapstick she was forced to relinquish, despite her protestations about the dry air on airplanes.

“I find this all a bit exaggerated, to tell you the truth,” Lichtenrerger said. “Unless, of course, the airline is going to give you Chapstick. Then they can jack up the (ticket) price.”

Tami Martin, 34, of Milwaukee stuffed her purse and some business folders she normally would have carried aboard into her checked luggage.

“It was not a hassle once we saw the news,” Martin said. “(But) because we put so much in our suitcase, we were told we were over the (luggage weight) limit.”

The biggest concerns were expressed by merchants in the airport whose business was being hurt by the travel restrictions. Shops in the airsides were forbidden from selling anything included in the carry-on ban.

At Tranquility Bath & Body Boutique in the main terminal — where featured items include spray-on liquids, aerosols and lotions — business was dead.

“We have many things that are not liquid, but the first thing on passengers minds are, you can’t take it with you,” employee Mary Machinena said.

So the store is offering free shipping on all items that can’t be taken on planes.

One store unaffected by the travel restrictions — despite its reliance on liquids — was the duty free shop at Airside F, used by all international arrivals and departures.

Passengers buy liquor and perfumes in the shop but don’t carry them out of the store. Instead, authorized personnel deliver the items to the passengers once they have boarded their aircraft — the products are never out of secure hands.

Times staff writer Steve Huettel contributed to this report.

[Last modified August 11, 2006, 22:30:09]

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