Flying naked

Posted: Sep 27, 2006 12:01 AM
Flying naked

Air travel quit being fun about the time snazzy Braniff Airlines went out of business, but it has become a nightmare as a result of the most recent security rules. Not only can't you bring a bottle of water aboard to stave off dehydration on a five-hour flight, but even a tube of lipstick or mascara has become suddenly suspect in response to the recently foiled plot against American carriers in Great Britain.

Thankfully, these rules are being abandoned in favor of a whole new set of guidelines for the weary traveler. This week, the Transportation Security Administration announced that passengers can bring with them drinks purchased at concessions within the security perimeter, as well as small amounts of liquid toiletries, so long as they're packed in a clear, zip-lock bag that can easily be examined during baggage screening.

Too bad the rules didn't go into effect a week ago; it would have saved me a lot of money. I am obsessive about following rules, so when the airlines tell me no liquids, creams or gels of any sort, I obey, which cost me dearly on a flight from Denver to Grand Rapids, Mich., last week. I arrived at the airport the recommended 90 minutes before departure, but I waited in line for more than 45 minutes to check my bags, which meant, of course, there was no guarantee that my suitcase would make it on my flight.

I knew I was in trouble when I arrived at Gerald R. Ford International Airport and an agent announced that anyone whose bags weren't on the carousel should report to the ticket counter. About a quarter of the passengers' bags were missing.

Perhaps I'm too cautious, but when the airlines banned liquids and gels, I decided it wasn't worth risking any makeup in my purse or carry-on luggage lest it be confiscated during screening. So before leaving for the airport, I dutifully packed away my cosmetics bag in the luggage I was checking.

Maybe this doesn't seem like a major inconvenience to the average male, but I'm the sort of woman who doesn't go to the grocery store without applying lipstick and mascara. Being deprived of the ability to touch up my lipstick and blush feels like being forced to go out in public half-naked. And much as cosmetics companies claim they've invented long-lasting lip color, I've yet to find one that lives up to the promise. After four hours getting to the airport, waiting on line and finally arriving at my destination, my lips were bare and my cheeks wan.

The airline agent in Grand Rapids was apologetic, but there was nothing she could do. My bags were in Chicago and wouldn't arrive until after midnight. The airlines, I learned, won't take any responsibility for delayed luggage beyond offering an emergency toiletries kit, which, of course, includes little of use to the fairer sex.

Meanwhile, I was due at a dinner that evening with fellow participants for a conference that would take place the following day. I had no choice but to head for the nearest department store to replenish my makeup supply. I suppose I could have gone to a drug store and spent considerably less, but some $200 later, I finally felt prepared to face the public.

TSA's new rules will save me such trouble in the future -- that is until they change the rules once again. The most frustrating part of living in this new environment is that we can never be sure that inconveniencing millions of passengers will keep us any safer from fanatics bent on blowing themselves up in order to kill us. Since we're not allowed to profile, we subject everyone to intrusive procedures that must constantly change as we develop new information about terrorist plots.

I'm glad I'll be able to bring lipstick and foundation with me when I fly later this week, but I wish I had more confidence that we've finally gotten the rules right.

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