Sept. 26, 2006 -- The foiled bomb plot in London this summer alerted the world to the real risk that terrorists had plans to construct bombs by combining liquid explosives on board aircraft. Immediately, reports of the foiled plot changed the way we all fly.
But starting today, some of the rules are going to change.
Airline passengers will be allowed to carry travel-sized toiletries of 3 ounces or less if they fit comfortably in one quart-size, clear plastic, zip-top bag, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced today at a press conference.
Also, there will be more changes to the total ban on liquids, gels, and aerosols, which had been in effect since Aug. 10. Passengers will now be able to board airplanes with these items, only if they are purchased in the secure, boarding area of the airport. But beverages purchased elsewhere are still disallowed.
Larger amounts of required liquid-form medications, baby formula and diabetic glucose treatments, must be declared to security officers at the entrance of the checkpoint for screening.
The Air Transport Association (ATA), which represents America's leading airlines, supported TSA's decision to relieve the ban.
"It is clear that TSA has performed deliberate and careful risk analysis to identify which items passengers can safely bring onboard," said James C. May, ATA President and CEO. "ATA supports TSA's refinement of banned items, both because of TSA's security assessment and because it will reduce passenger inconvenience."
But why has the TSA decided to lift the total ban now? Is the risk no longer as dire?
"On Aug. 10th, we put in place measures because we did not know as much as we know now," said TSA's director, Kip Hawley. "We wanted to be safe. And in the time since then, we've learned an awful lot about it and done advanced explosives testing."
Hawley said the decision was also made in consideration of the need for allocating the transportation security officers appropriately.
"We don't want our resources going around and fishing for mascara or lip gloss -- we need them doing real security work, so this will allow us to put more focus where we need it."
The total ban on liquids, gels and aerosols came into effect on Aug. 10, after U.K. officials unraveled a terrorist plot involving transatlantic flights headed for the U.S. The terrorists, 24 of whom were arrested, had planned to mix a British sports drink with a gel-like substance to create an explosive that could be triggered by an MP3 player or a cell phone.
Despite TSA's refinements to its security measures, the U.S. Homeland Security threat level for aviation remains at Orange, or high.
At airports nationwide, TSA will be implementing enhanced security measures. There will be increased random screening of employees, additional canine patrols, stronger air cargo security measures, and more rigorous identity verification standards. TSA will also deploy more trained security officers in bomb appraisal and screening.
For those concerned about longer lines at the airports, Earl Morris, TSA's General Manager for Field Operations, said, "We believe that the traveling public is fairly smart, and within a few days, they're going to adjust to these new measures, and once again, we'll see a normal process in the lines."
Senator Charles E. Schumer, however, remains critical of TSA's actions. "It's great that the Homeland Security Department is constantly re-evaluating their travel guidelines," said Schumer. "But they should be devoting far more time and resources on protecting us from the next threats, like nuclear devices, air cargo explosions, and bioterrorism, instead of just debating the relative dangers of lip gloss and fruit drinks."