New Airport Regulations: A Costly Convenience

For the past six weeks, airport retailers have been finding creative ways to sell and promote their liquid and gel products, which were banned from carry-on luggage.

Cosmetics-maker Lush offered customers at its airport stores in Orlando and Toronto free shipping on all liquid shampoos, conditioners, lotions, and cleansers.

Crest and Avis teamed up to offer free toothpaste and mouthwash to car renters.

Now that the Transportation Security Administration has relaxed the ban, which includes allowing passengers to carry on liquids and gels purchased past security checkpoints, many retailers are relieved.

"Travelers will be allowed to carry travel-size toiletries (3 ounces or less) that fit comfortably in one quart-size, clear plastic, zip-top bag through security checkpoints," the TSA said in a press release. "Travelers may also bring items, including beverages, purchased in the secure, boarding area on-board the aircraft."

"[Storekeepers] can now go back to business as usual," said Scott Krugman, spokesperson for the National Retail Federation.  "Suffice it to say, there certainly was an impact."

Most passengers seemed to take the ban in stride but grew weary of pitching bottles of water and other items before boarding.

"I actually bought less at the airport because I didn't want to deal with throwing anything out," said traveler Amber Miller.  "One time I bought breadsticks, but I couldn't bring in the sauce.  I was annoyed because it's just not good without the sauce."

Retailers were generally reticent about how the ban affected their sales, but overall food and beverage sales for retailers at Chicago's O'Hare airport actually increased 12 percent in August compared to the same month one year ago.  At Chicago's Midway Airport, that figure rose 15 percent.

Lush said its overall sales have not dipped significantly since the ban -- even though one-third of Lush's products are in liquid or gel form.  "We had an increase in people coming requesting solid products specifically for their travels," said spokesperson Brandi Halls.

Still, the change in airport policy is "great news" for the company.  "Nobody wants any percentage of their product line unavailable to customers," said Halls.

Krugman said ever since the 9/11 attacks five years ago, airport retailers have gotten used to adapting.  "Most retailers go into the airport business with their eyes wide open," said Krugman.  "You have to be able to expect the unexpected."

Patrick Gleason of the Center for Airport Management in Portland, Oregon felt the new relaxed regulations on liquids and airport sales meant only small change for airport retailers.

In regard to predictions of airport retail sales, Gleason said "I think it'll be about the same as it's been. It really has not been a great decrease in those sales [since the ban]."

"There might be an expanded assortment of. . . health beauty aids," Gleason continued, "but for years airport stores have sold travel size. Now that you can carry them on, you can buy them locally and carry them on instead of buying at the airport. It's getting back to a greater convenience to the passenger."

But while the TSA's rules might be neutral for airport business, many feel that it's more of a cost to the airport consumer than a convenience.

Consumer advocacy groups, such as Consumer Action based in San Francisco, California find that the new rules are not necessarily beneficial for travelers.

"It certainly sounds like a concession to retailers than to passengers," said Joe Ridout, spokesperson for Consumer Action. "Many passengers balk at paying the high prices charged at airport retail outlets and some will be unhappy to feel that they're forced to purchase things they wouldn't normally have to."

Though airports do offer options such as drinking fountains and in-flight beverages, a high-priced and sometimes unhealthy selection can be frustrating for consumers.

"It runs the risk of appearing like you're taking advantage of a captive market," said Ridout.