U.S. air travel at codes red, orange for U.K. and domestic flights

Officials in the United Kingdom say they have disrupted a terrorist plot to blow up as many as nine airplanes flying from Britain to the United States. At least 21 people have been arrested in the plot.

The U.S. has raised its security threat warning to code red, the highest level of alertness, for commercial flights to the U.S. from Britain. All other U.S. flights are now at code orange, the second highest level. News reports indicate that United, American, and Continental were the airlines targeted in the plot.

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This is certain to have an impact on security conditions at the airports, both domestically and abroad. Here are the short-term changes we know are in effect:

  • The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is prohibiting all liquids, hair gels, and lotions in carry-on baggage within the United States. This includes coffee, soda, and even contact solution.
  • Essential liquids, such as baby formula, are being allowed.
  • No carry-on baggage is being allowed on any international flights departing from Britain.
  • Expect severe security delays at the airport. Television news reports are putting some security line wait times at one to two hours long.

The TSA has issued a full statement on its website. It says these changes "will continue to assure that our aviation system remains safe and secure."

There are a few things travelers can do to reduce hassles for both themselves and airport security officials. First, de-clutter your carry-on bags to allow screeners to have a clear view of the bags' contents in the x-ray machines. Second, be patient and understand that these changes are likely to affect air travel for the forseeable future. Finally, call your airline if you are scheduled to travel soon and inquire whether your flights may be delayed or rescheduled due to delays. This is particularly important if you need to catch a connecting flight or have a complicated itinerary.

The TSA has a released an explanation of changes in effect due to the elevated security levels, as well as a list of affected items such as liquids and carry-ons. Be sure to review this before heading to the airport.

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