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Monday, August 28, 2006

Transatlantic Flights in the Post-Liquid Era

I finally returned from my trip to Europe. I was only gone for 2 weeks but it feels like ages, maybe because my department went from "barely alive" to its usual new school year activity levels. The conferences I went to (in Stirling and Copenhagen) turned out to be fantastic. I met a number of new people and learned a lot, and I am grateful to Duncan Pritchard, Lars Bo Gundersen and Klemens Kappel for organizing the events.

So what about the flights? They weren't too bad. Some of the conference participants left before they lifted the "no hand bag" restriction for flights to the UK. But laptops are apparently more resistant than one would have thought.

The airlines haven't yet adjusted to the "no liquid" restrictions. I went with Continental. They ran out of bottled water after 4 hours (half-way). The passengers were thirsty. The flight attendants assured us that it was safe to drink the water in the rest rooms. I could have sworn that there was a sign in the rest room above the sink saying "do not drink the tap water". But if it was ever there, it had been removed. So I drank it, and I was fine. It was only later that I read that 25% of the tap water on flights contains excessive amounts of coli bateria. I wonder whether the many infants on the plane whose mothers had to mix the rest room water with baby formula were feeling equally great about this.

On the way back I made sure to drink plenty of water in the "sterile area" at the gate before boarding. I brought my own EMPTY water bottle. They removed the cap at the screening point. Why? Because otherwise I could fill it at the water fountains in the sterile area and hide it in my hand luggage. But in the sterile area you could buy bottled water with caps and hide it in your hand luggage. They never checked again. So the cap removal policy at the screening point was apparently "all show".

There were a couple of other surprises on the trip. Joe Salerno, my fellow traveller, got detained on his way into Scotland. The problem was a little inconsistency. They asked me whether we "worked together". I said "no, we are going to a conference". Joe said "define 'working together' ". Then the officer wanted a detailed account of the conference we were allegedly going to. Joe thought she was just small-talking. She was not! But half an hour later he got off the hook and we could continue our trip to Stirling.

Copenhagen had lifted the "no liquid, no gel, no cream" restrictions, except for flights to Heathrow. But, to my surprise, they had added a new restriction. A "taste anything liquid, creamy, or gel-y" restriction. Try tasting hair gel or night cream. Yuk!

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