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Travel rules in full flight

After an airport security officer pulled hand sanitizer, frozen bottled water and a yogurt cup from her bag, Alyssia Maluda gave voice to the frustrations of legions of infrequent fliers.

"This whole Ziploc bag thing is new to me,'' said Maluda, 15, a high school sophomore from New Tampa. "The last time I flew was in the summer.''

Tampa International Airport was jammed Tuesday with holiday travelers encountering new airport security rules for the first time.

Airport and federal security officials nationwide worried that fliers confused about restrictions on liquids, gels and aerosols in carry-on bags would snarl screening lines.

For good reason: Lots of local travelers were confused about what was allowed (most toiletries and cosmetics in 3-ounce bottles or smaller) and how they had to be packed (in a quart-sized, zip-top bag inside carry-on luggage).

But the predawn rush at Tampa International moved smoothly, with waiting times topping out at 30 minutes.

One big reason: special steps taken by the airport and Transportation Security Administration to help fliers before they caused gridlock at security checkpoints.

TSA officers called out the rules as passengers prepared to board shuttles to gate terminals. They quizzed bewildered travelers one-on-one.

Harley Spear of Clearwater had his Neosporin, roll-on deodorant and moisturizing cream in an oversized toiletry bag. An officer with boxes of legal-sized baggies handed him a replacement.

The goal is to catch about one-third of prohibited or improperly packed items before passengers reach the checkpoints, said Dario Compain, the TSA's security director for Tampa International.

Roving teams of officers shifted to busier terminals to open extra screening lines.

The government banned all liquids and gels from carry-on bags Aug. 10 after British police arrested more than 20 men who allegedly planned to blow up U.S.-bound airliners with liquid explosives. Only baby formula and prescription medicines were exempt.

On Sept. 26, the TSA eased the rules to allow small amounts of travel staples like toothpaste, shampoo and makeup.

A complete list of permitted and prohibited items can be found at www.tsa.gov, the agency's Web site.

Business travelers know the drill, said Compain, but not occasional fliers. The TSA launched an education campaign this month called 3-1-1 (for 3 ounces, one plastic bag per one customer) to reach holiday travelers.

Janet Elias of St. Pete Beach committed a common mistake: not removing the plastic bag of liquids from her carry-on before screening. Any liquids detected in an X-ray bag scan - of legal size or not - require an officer to search the carry-on by hand, which takes three to five minutes.

"That's only half of the procedure,'' security officer Michelle Crew said as she lifted out Elias' plastic bag.

More than 30,000 passengers passed through Tampa International on Tuesday, at least 25 percent more than an average day, said airport director Louis Miller.

Today, the numbers will be higher. But still nothing like the Sunday after Thanksgiving, traditionally the busiest travel day of the year. "Then, it's Katie bar the door,'' said Miller.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

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