Thursday, 10 August 2006
Advice on today's changes in airline carry-on rules
Air travel worldwide is disrupted today.
Many flights to, from, and within the United Kingdom (including short-haul flights between the UK and Europe as well as long-haul flights to and from the USA) have been cancelled entirely or delayed by many hours. Heathrow Airport in London is the world busiest passenger air transit hub, and ripple effects in delays and missed connections are propagating worldwide.
A new set of restrictions on carry-on luggage is being applied to flights from the UK, and a different net set of restrictions to flights within the USA. Some lines in airports in the UK and USA are many hours longer than usual.
In general, my advice to air travellers is as follows:
- Plan to check all your luggage, or ship it separately, not carry it on. Carry on only things that are truly essential while you are waiting for, or while you are on, your flight. Put as much as possible in your checked baggage, or ship it separately. If you put valuables in checked luggage, make sure you declare and pay for insurance for its full value. On flights from the UK (but not domestic flights in the USA), my sources report that as of today (this could change) passengers are being required to put all electronic devices in checked baggage, or have them confiscated and destroyed. This includes laptop computers, PDA's, mobile/cell phones, digital cameras, music players,and late-model car keys (almost all of which have RFID transponders in the key fob). No carry-on baggage at all is being allowed on some UK flights. On flights within the USA, as well as from the UK, passengers are being required to check, or have confiscated and destroyed, all liquids, gels, creams, lotions, etc. -- bottles of water, shampoo, toothpaste, etc.
- Arrive at the airport early. As of today, the USA Transportation Security Administration (TSA) recommends that you should arrive at least 2 hours before any domestic flight, 3 hours before any international flight. (Few people do, but the airline isn't responsible if you miss you flight, regardless of the reason. And you can never know if you will be selected, randomly or otherwise, for "secondary screening" or worse.) At least until the new procedures become routinized, I would add 2 hours to whatever the TSA and airline recommend: arrive at the airport at least 4 hours before a domestic flight in the USA, 5 hours before an international flight. It's unclear as of now how long it will take to clear the backlogs of passengers from delayed and cancelled flights, have people get used to the new procedures, and get the lines moving more quickly again.
- Carry medications only in original labelled containers. It's especially important to have the original prescription labels on any prescription medications. if you normally buy them in quantities too large to be convenient for travel, ask your pharmacist to package and label a small quantity separately for you for travel.
- When making reservations for future flights, especially connections involving international flights, allow a generous amount of time for connections. Airlines and travel Web sites generally suggest the connecting flights with the shortest "legal" connections, but even a "legal" connection isn't guaranteed -- it's your problem if you don't make a connection. Ask if there is a longer connection available, with at least an hour more time scheduled between your flights than the recommended minimum connecting time.
- If you are stranded away from home by cancelled or delayed flights or missed connections, or are thinking about making changes to your plans for future travel, see my FAQ About Changes to Flights and Tickets and my FAQ: Advice to Air Travelers .
A major problem in giving any advice about the current "rules" is that the USA government refuses to disclose the rules to which travellers are subject, making it impossible to know what is required and/or forbidden, or whether the rules are being followed. The TSA has made contradictory statements and has forced us to try to infer what the rules are (if there are any rules) from individual incidents like what happened to me recently.
The TSA's secrecy about its rules is the subject of ongoing litigation. A request for the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case challenging the secrecy of the rules was filed last week:
What will happen next? The current legal basis for giving the USA government access to information about passengers from Europe has been annulled by the European Court of Justice. That ruling takes effect 1 October 2006, as of which date airlines that continue to comply with the current or proposed USA rules will be subject to sanctions for violation of EU privacy and data protection rules -- unless by that time a new treaty is negotiated, signed, ratified by EU member countries, ratified by the U.S. Senate, and enters into effect, all of which is extremely unlikely to happen so quickly..
The best indication of how the USA government will change its security procedures for international flights to and from the USA is the new set of Federal rules for international flights proposed last month, on which the government is currently taking public comments. (The publicly-disclosed portion of the proposed rules doesn't include any proposed changes in rules for carry-on luggage, although the secret portions of the rules could be changed at any time.)
This ongoing Federal rulemaking procedure, and the impending effective date of the European Court of Justice ruling, are likely to get much more attention in the wake of today's events.
I'm currently preparing an analysis of these proposals, and their impact, as a travel expert and consultant to The Identity Project , a civil liberties organization concerned with the freedom of travel. The comment deadline has been extended to 12 October 2006, in response to requests from airlines and other travel companies for more time to study the proposal and evaluate the costs to them of complying with it. I hope to have the comments of The Identity Project posted well before the deadline, as a resource for others preparing their own comments. (If you're with an organization that is interested in co-signing the comments of The Identity Project, please let me know.)
I'll be talking about all this with Harrison Chastang on KPOO radio (89.5 FM in San Francisco) at 5:30 p.m. PDT this eventing.
[Addendum, 11 August 2006: Several readers have asked me what to do about the risk of theft from checked baggage by TSA baggage screeners or contractors, and whether to use "TSA approved" luggage locks. My advice is to (A) avoid bringing anything with you on any trip of monetary or sentimental value, unless you really need it, (B) keep a careful list of what valuables are in your luggage, and ( C ) if anything happens to your checked luggage, file a claim with the airline, not the TSA, even if the airline tries to refer you to the TSA, as dicussed in my earlier article on airlines, the TSA, luggage locks, and liability .]
[Further addendum, 18 August 2006: My friend Wendy Grossman surveys some of the alternatives in solid form to the liquids and gel toiletries you might normally have in your carry-on luggage.]Link | Posted by Edward on Thursday, 10 August 2006, 14:56 ( 2:56 PM) | TrackBack (0)