Carry-on liquids keep being restricted by airlines


Air travelers counting down the days to the end of rules restricting carry-on liquids – the ones that force you to carry everything in little bottles – will need to keep counting for a while.

Last October, the chief of the Transportation Security Administration cheerfully predicted that “within a year” the agency would have installed new technology in scanning machines that would allow it to drop the 3-year-old rules.

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And TSA spokesman Christopher White was widely quoted last fall as saying, “We’re confident it’s going to happen in 2009.”

Well, it’s been a year, and the TSA has backed away from former administrator Kip Hawley’s statement. The TSA now has no timeline set for when the rules will go away, said spokeswoman Andrea McCauley.

The problem is the complex algorithm that the enhanced machines will use to look at liquids. The plan was to have the machines set to be able to distinguish explosives from normal liquids and gels.

The agency continues to tweak the computers to be able to make the process work. But it’s slow going to get everything right so it can be rolled out around the system, McCauley said.

If the TSA gets the system working, passengers would be allowed to bring liquids of any size through security checkpoints, though initially passengers still would be required to remove the liquids from their bags to be scanned separately from other items.

Later, the TSA envisioned that passengers would be able to keep the liquids in their carry-on bags, perhaps as soon as 2010.

As of today, the rules limit liquids, aerosols and gels to 3.4 ounces (it’s a metric system conversion used to conform with the way other countries measure liquid volumes) for carry-on luggage. The TSA wants the containers in clear, plastic bags.

The rules have been in place since August 2006 after British terrorism officials thwarted what they said was a plan to use liquid explosives to take down airliners, though some reports since then have questioned how strong a threat existed from liquid bombs.

Passengers have gotten pretty good at the liquids drill, TSA’s McCauley said. At Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, the TSA has free clear plastic bags at some checkpoints to help passengers, though the rules still trip up infrequent fliers.