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In holiday travels, an ounce of gel can bring pound of trouble

Here are some scenes you may well see if you're flying during the Thanksgiving holiday:

* Some guy pleading with an airport screener to keep his nearly empty, full-sized bottle of aftershave lotion. He will lose this argument.

* Passengers shocked to learn the water bottle in their hand can't go through security checkpoints (though they can buy one at a store on the other side).

* People who meticulously pack 3-ounce bottles of shampoo, hair spray and eye drops in a quart-sized, zip-top plastic bag but leave it inside their carry-on bag. A screener will search their carry-on by hand.

The busiest week and a half in commercial aviation is about to get even uglier.

Airline, airport and government officials are concerned that millions of occasional travelers will encounter new security rules for the first time and cause long delays in screening lines.

Passengers at Tampa International Airport got a little taste of the problem Monday morning as Veterans Day weekend visitors tried to get home. It took travelers 42 minutes to get through one security line, about twice as long as average peak-time wait.

"Most nonbusiness travelers are unaware of or fail to follow the rules,'' says Dario Compain, security director at Tampa International for the Transportation Security Administration. "As the volume of passenger traffic increases, wait times are slowly ticking up.''

The Air Transportation Association forecasts that 25-million passengers - an average of more than 2-million a day - will fly on U.S. airlines between Friday and Nov. 28, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. That's 3 percent more than last year.

If travelers miss their flights while waiting in snarled lines, airlines likely won't have room to rebook them with planes flying near capacity.

The rules changed Aug. 10 after British authorities arrested more than 20 men who allegedly planned to blow up airliners headed for the United States using explosive liquids taken on board in carry-on luggage.

The TSA initially prohibited passengers from taking liquids and gels on airliners. Only baby formula and prescription medicines were exempt.

Under pressure from airlines and travelers, the agency eased up on the rules Sept. 26, allowing small amounts of toiletries inside carry-ons through security checkpoints.

Passengers can carry items such as toothpaste, shampoo, makeup and mouthwash that are in containers of 3 ounces or less and all fit inside a quart-sized, zip-topped plastic bag. Each traveler can carry one bag.

The TSA also began allowing shops inside secure areas to sell liquids and gels, which have already been screened.

Most frequent fliers call the changes a huge improvement. But hiccups persist, particularly among occasional travelers.

People routinely show up with gallon-sized freezer bags or other zip-tops the wrong size. They bring half-squeezed-out, 6-ounce toothpaste tubes.

Even passengers with the right-sized plastic bag filled with 3-ounce containers slip up if they leave the bag in their carry-on at the checkpoint. They'll wait as long as five minutes - and hold up people behind them - as a screener goes through their luggage.

You can, of course, skip the hassle by packing all your gels and liquids inside checked luggage. But only if you don't need that nasal spray on the plane or trust the airline not to lose your bag.

"A lot of people, especially vacation travelers, go on the old advice that you take along everything you need in case something happens to your luggage,'' says Judy Graham-Weaver, a spokeswoman for AirTran Airways.

And that's such a crazy concept?

Steve Huettel can be reached at or (813) 226-3384.


Holiday travel tips

Over the Thanksgiving holidays, many air travelers will encounter new airport security rules for the first time. For a complete list of dos and don'ts, go to and click on Permitted & Prohibited Items. Here are tips to make your trip go more smoothly:

* Liquids, gels and aerosols you intend to carry on the plane must be in 3-ounce or smaller containers. They must all fit inside a quart-sized, zip-top plastic bag. One bag per passenger.

* Remove the plastic bag from your carry-on for X-ray screening at the security checkpoint.

* Before arriving at the checkpoint, put all metal items in your carry-on bag.

* Arrive at the airport at least two hours before your departure time.

* Wear shoes that are easy to remove. All travelers must take off shoes for X-ray screening.

Steve Huettel, Times staff writer