- The Washington Times - Friday, August 11, 2006

Airline passengers changed their buying habits and, in some cases, their choice of carriers after the arrests in London of purported conspirators in a plot to blow up trans-Atlantic commercial airplanes.

Sales fell of banned liquids, gels and creams at duty-free and other retail shops at local airports, and charter-jet services reported receiving more inquiries about booking flights.

“In the morning, I don’t think anyone was selling any perfume or alcohol products at the duty-free shops” after the ban was announced Thursday, said Michael Payne, executive director of the International Association of Airport Duty Free Stores. By yesterday afternoon, “It’s gotten a little back to normal,” he said.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) banned fluids from carry-on luggage to avoid the risk terrorists could bring explosive liquids onto airplanes and detonate them on board, which was what terrorists arrested by British authorities planned to do.

The new security procedures deeply concern airport retailers who are uncertain about the long-term effect on their sales, Mr. Payne said.

“People are still adjusting,” he said. “We probably need to wait a little longer to see how this all shakes out.”

Duty-free shops are accessible only to airline passengers and employees or airport workers after they clear the security checkpoint. The shops normally are located between the checkpoint and the gates at international airports.

International travelers who are leaving the United States can purchase alcohol or small items at the stores without paying taxes or tariffs on them.

Mr. Payne said the TSA continued to allow duty-free customers to bring fluids on airplanes yesterday, but only if the items were hand-delivered to them by airport workers after the passengers boarded their planes.

The list of banned items includes drinks, toothpaste, suntan lotion, cosmetics and medicines that lack an accompanying prescription.

“Obviously we’re not selling certain items in the same quantity we normally would, such as bottled water,” said Kelly Price, vice president of airport management for Westfield Concession Management, the company that manages retail concessions at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport.

Westfield Concession Management is holding out hope the ban will simply reshuffle sales rather than damage retailers.

“Deplaning passengers need to resupply,” Miss Price said. “People are spending longer at the airport, so food sales are up. It’s a mixed bag.”

The company is figuring out how to adapt to the ban.

“We’ll be working with our retail tenants about alternatives, like offering free shipping for items people can’t take on the planes,” Miss Price said.

Charter-jet services said terrorism concerns of airline passengers were obvious from the phone calls they are receiving.

“It’s just like 9/11,” said Bob Hawthorne, Washington regional manager for Martinair Corp., a Richmond-based charter-aircraft company. “The number of calls doubled.”

Customers began calling in the morning when the arrests in Britain were announced and continued all day, Mr. Hawthorne said. “It was all the way to 10 o’clock last night,” he said.

Some of the callers asked whether Martinair banned fluids from airplanes and helicopters.

“That liquid stuff doesn’t affect us for charters,” said Mr. Hawthorne, whose company operates 26 aircraft mostly along the East Coast.

A typical round-trip chartered flight to New York from Reagan Airport costs about $6,000, he said.

Carrie Gilbreath, sales director for charter service JetFirst Inc., said roughly a dozen callers asked about the company’s flights to Europe on Thursday and yesterday compared with two or three in a normal two-day period.

Although they did not specifically mention terrorism concerns, “that was the general assumption,” she said.

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