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Monday, August 6, 2007 - Page updated at 02:05 PM

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Bringing it on: the new rules for carry-on bags at airports

Seattle Times travel writer

Q. Am I allowed to take electronic items aboard planes in my carry-on?

A. Yes, but you'll be asked to remove certain items from your bag and put them in one of the plastic bins for inspection at airport security checkpoints. These include laptop computers, full-size video game consoles (for example Playstation, X-box), full-size DVD players, and video cameras that use video cassettes. You won't be asked to removed small items, however, such as cell phones and iPods.

Q: What recent changes has TSA made to its policies on what passengers can take aboard planes in their carry-on luggage?

A: As of August 4, passengers will be allowed to bring most cigarette lighters on board, travelers without infants along will be allowed to carry more breast milk.

Travelers will be allowed to carry-on disposable butane lighters, such as Bics, and refillable lighters, like Zippos, but torch-style lighters, which have hotter flames, will still be banned.

The other rule change on Aug. 4 applies to mothers -- or anyone -- wanting to bring more than 3 ounces of breast milk onto an airplane. Under current rules, the passenger carrying that amount of milk must be accompanied by an infant, but the new rules drop that requirement. The liquid will still have to be declared to screeners who might request additional inspection.

Q: Can I still bring a carry-on bag on the plane?

A: Yes. You can bring a carry-on bag (9 inches by 14 inches by 22 inches) plus one personal item such as a purse or a laptop on flights within the United States.

Q: What can I put in my carry-on?

A: Most types of snacks, laptops, cameras, electronic gear — anything you always could with the exception of large amounts of liquids, gels and aerosols, such as shampoo, hair spray and toothpaste.

Q: What about liquids and gels?

A: Liquids and gels (including some food items such as soup, yogurt, jellies and pudding) packed in carry-ons must be in containers no bigger than 3 ounces. Larger containers that are half-full or toothpaste tubes rolled up are not allowed.

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Q: How should I carry these items?

A: Place them in a single, quart-size, zip-top, clear plastic bag. Gallon-size bags or bags that are not zip-top such as fold-over sandwich bags are not allowed.

Q: What about checked bags?

A: These rules only apply to carry-ons. You can pack any amount of liquids and gels in checked bags.

Q: When it comes to packing liquids in my carry-on, how many of the quart-sized bags can I take?

A: One bag per traveler. Have the bag out so you can place it in a bin or on the conveyor belt for X-ray screening.

Q: Will the airports provide bags?

A: Some manufacturers are donating bags that will be available at some airports next week, including Sea-Tac, but the supply is limited so it's best to bring your own.

Q: What happens if I use the wrong size bag?

A: You'll have to check it or leave the items at the security checkpoint.

Q: Three ounces doesn't sound like very much. What if I need more?

A: These rules are aimed at business travelers and others who travel only with a carry-on and need small amounts of toiletries for short trips. Still, 3 ounces is more than you might think; most travel-sized toiletries are 2 ounces or less.

Q: What about water, wine and other drinks?

A: Wait until you get through security. Only water and other beverages bought in the secure areas of the airport are allowed on board. Wine or liquor purchased in duty-free shops is permitted (but not if you have a connecting flight within the European Union). Europe requires duty-free liquor to be in special sealed bags not available from shops in U.S. airports.

Q: Are there exceptions?

A: Yes, there are no limits on certain liquid and gel items.

They include:

• Baby formula and breast milk if a baby or small child is traveling.

• Prescription and over-the-counter medications including KY jelly, eye drops, saline solution, cough medicine, etc. needed for medical purposes.

• Liquids including water, juice, insulin or liquid nutrition or gels for passengers with a disability or medical condition.

Q: Should I put these in a plastic bag?

A: No. Separate them from those in the quart-sized plastic bag, and declare them to an officer at the security checkpoint. Bring prescriptions with you.

Q: Is there a list of what is and isn't allowed?

A: Yes, see www.tsa.gov for a list of what you can take in carry-on and checked luggage, or call 866-289-9673. The list is fairly complete, but it can't cover everything. Security inspectors have the last word.

Q: What's the point of all of this?

A: Authorities decided to first ban, then restrict liquids and gels in airline cabins after liquid explosives were suspected in an Aug. 10 terrorist threat that targeted planes flying from Britain to the United States. The 3-ounce container size is a security measure.

Q: Are rules different in other countries?

A: The European Union recently enacted carry-on rules similar to those in effect in the U.S. The restrictions apply to all airports in the 25 EU nations as well as in Norway, Iceland, Croatia and Switzerland.

Rules differ at airports in other countries. Airports in India, for instance, allow no liquids or gels in hand baggage.

Q: This is all so confusing. Is there a way to simplify things?

A: Yes. Put everything except valuables in your checked bags.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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