U.S. Eases Rules on Gels and Liquids in Carry-Ons

Published: September 26, 2006

WASHINGTON, Sept. 25 — Aviation security officials eased the ban on carry-on liquids for airline passengers on Monday, after weeks of testing to determine how much of a liquid explosive would be needed to cause catastrophic damage to an airplane.

Beginning on Tuesday morning, passengers can carry three-ounce bottles of liquids and gels onto planes, as long as all items fit into a single quart-size zip-top plastic bag. Passengers will present the bags for inspection at checkpoints.

Testing by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and others showed that a quart-size bag filled with three-ounce containers would not hold enough explosives to destroy a plane, officials said.

“While this novel type of liquid explosives is now an ongoing part of the terrorists’ playbook and must be dealt with, we now know enough to say that a total ban is no longer needed from a security point of view,” Kip Hawley, the assistant secretary for the Transportation Security Administration, said at a news conference at Reagan National Airport.

Passengers will also be allowed to board with sodas, bottled water or other liquids that they buy after passing the security checkpoints, in the secure area of terminals. Mr. Hawley made clear that the revised rules, and the elevated threat level put into effect last month after the disruption of a plot to bomb planes flying to the United States from London, would most likely continue for many months, if not indefinitely.

That is because the government does not have automated equipment that can check passengers and their carry-on bags for liquid explosives. Developing and deploying this equipment at the 753 airport checkpoints will take months, if not years.

“This is not going to go away,” Mr. Hawley said. “Let’s build ourselves a sustainable level of security.”

The revisions, which are also going into effect for domestic and international flights in Canada and may be adopted in Europe, address many criticisms of the ban on liquids. Because small bottles of perfume or makeup, as well as containers of shaving cream, deodorant and toothpaste, are being allowed in carry-on baggage, passengers can again carry on small bags for short trips. Since the ban started, airlines have dealt with 25 percent more checked bags than usual.

Passengers traveling on Monday through Reagan National across the Potomac River from Washington said they welcomed the change.

“It seems prudent,” said John Glaser of Boston, who had left behind his toiletries for a trip to Washington.

Others expressed concern that a terrorist could obtain a liquid explosive that had been sneaked into the secure area and carry it without restriction onto the plane.

“How do you know they bought the bottle there?” asked James Roy of Worcester County, Mass. “Are they going to ask for your receipt?”

Mr. Hawley, asked about that, said that workers at stores beyond the checkpoint had to pass through security and that other maintenance workers were subject to background checks. He added that officers of the Transportation Security Administration would increase random inspections of airport workers.

Ultimately, significant changes will be needed in the checkpoint equipment, because most devices on hand, including X-ray machines and metal detectors, cannot automatically identify liquid or plastics explosives, officials agreed.

The security agency has had trouble installing such devices. Installing the trace detection portal, or puffer machine, which was put in about 35 airports, has been delayed because the machines broke down too often.

Mr. Hawley said the agency intended to test new equipment, including a machine that can evaluate bottles to see whether a liquid inside is explosive, or a machine similar to a CAT scan that can more reliably evaluate carry-on bags to see whether they might have bombs. The problem, he said, is ensuring that the equipment will work as promised by the manufacturers, Mr. Hawley said.

“We don’t want to be in the position of, out of the urgent need to do this, we essentially waste the taxpayers’ money,” he said. “We want to take our time to do it right.”