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The Orlando Sentinel, Fla., Beth Kassab Column: A 2-Year, 3-Ounce TSA Anniversary

August 6, 2008

By Beth Kassab, The Orlando Sentinel, Fla.

Aug. 6–This weekend will mark two years since the Transportation Security Administration stepped up the war on terror with an attack on shampoo, toothpaste and bottled water.

Remember the days when you could throw your toiletries into your carry-on luggage and hop on a plane for a quick business trip without checking a bag or carefully rationing hair gel and conditioner into 3-ounce containers?

People recall the ease of packing pre-Aug. 10, 2006, with the same nostalgia as they recall airline meals served on real china.

TSA’s ban on liquids has become the agency’s most hated policy, scorned by business travelers and weekend jet-setters everywhere.

I remember being at Orlando International Airport the day news broke that police in London were investigating a plot to blow up U.S.-bound airliners with liquid explosives. Arrests were made. Footage was beamed live on CNN.

And TSA demanded that travelers here start filling up trash cans with expensive perfumes, wines and everything else you can imagine in liquid, gel or aerosol form.

TSA later came out with its permanent rule limiting passengers to liquids in 3-ounce or smaller containers that must be packed in a clear, one-quart zip top bag.

Back in London, the alleged terrorist plotters — who prosecutors say planned to use sports drink bottles filled with explosives tinted with food coloring to wreak havoc as planes crossed the Atlantic — are still awaiting a jury verdict from their trial this summer.

Travelers can give up waiting on any relief from this rule.

TSA spokeswoman Sari Koshetz told me in an e-mail that liquid explosives are still “an active threat” and “more than 80 countries have harmonized” with the TSA’s rules.

She said new X-ray technology “may eventually get us to the point where liquids could remain inside the bag in limited quantities. This is at least a year off.”

So, for the time being, as more airlines begin charging to check bags they once shuttled for free, passengers are best off learning to cope with these carry-on restrictions.

But there’s nothing wrong with a little fuming about the rule’s questionable effectiveness, and the hassles it has created.

To mark its second anniversary, airline-industry blogger Brett Snyder is soliciting six-word summations of the rule at crankyflier.com.

“I think people have learned to live with it by now, but people still get angry,” he said. “The further along we get, people ask, ‘Why haven’t we solved this problem yet? How come we haven’t found a better way to do this?’”

Snyder is pairing with BottleWise, a company developed in direct response to the ban that sells spill-proof containers for souvenir bottles of wine that now must be packed in checked luggage, to award the winning six-word rant next week.

Here are some early entries:

Yikes! Forgot baggie! Favorite cologne gone.

Effective lobbying subsidizes Ziploc corporate profits.

Global war on toiletries turns two.

Liquid ban, luggage fees, revenue solution.

Two years later, fliers’ aggravation with the rule is still palpable. But, really, it is just one of the many irritations travelers endure today along with rising fares, slashed routes, forced shoe removal and charges for simple comforts such as pillows and blankets.

Here’s my six-word seethe:

China not necessary; service, convenience required.

Beth Kassab can be reached at bkassab@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5448.

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Copyright (c) 2008, The Orlando Sentinel, Fla.

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