- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 21, 2006

OMAHA, Neb. — Fifteen live lobsters? Those you can take on a plane.

But the ice or gel packs to keep the lobsters cold are not allowed under the recent ban on liquids and gels in carry-on luggage.

The restrictions, put in place after August’s foiled plot to blow up U.S.-bound planes using liquid explosives, are forcing airport businesses that sell edible local specialties to adapt.

Omaha Steaks has been selling steaks at the city’s Eppley Airfield since the late 1970s. The two kiosks are upstairs, outside security checkpoints. But most people have already checked their luggage downstairs by the time they walk past.

Before the restrictions were in place, the frozen steaks were kept cold by gel packs, and many people carried them on to stow in overhead bins or under seats.

Robbi Pozzi has worked at the airport kiosks for two years. Right after the restrictions went into place, she said business slowed.

So Omaha Steaks started offering free shipping, or a free cooler pack if customers buy $50 worth of steaks, said Beth Weiss, the firm’s corporate communications director.

If people are taking a short flight, the steaks are frozen so solid, they take four to six hours to thaw, Miss Weiss said.

Mike Cochrane wasn’t concerned as he bought a four-pack of New York strip steaks.

He was in Omaha for the first time in five years for work — and he wasn’t going home empty-handed.

“It wouldn’t matter if it was defrosted — I’d just eat them right away,” the Canadian software salesman said.

Mr. Cochrane told Miss Pozzi that he had a six-hour trip to Vancouver, and she packed the steaks into a silver cooler bag.

Anthony Lee, who bought $85 worth of meat, said he assumed employees would tell him if they were giving him something he couldn’t carry on.

“Otherwise, you’re feeding all the guards,” the San Francisco businessman joked.

Employees at Clearwater seafood company in Bedford, Nova Scotia, also noticed a drop in sales immediately after the restrictions went into place.

The location at Halifax International Airport sells live and cooked lobster — and both have to be kept cold.

People were understandably reticent to pack lobsters in their checked luggage, Chief Executive Officer Colin MacDonald said.

Their solution? Frozen vegetables.

Mr. MacDonald said the company checked with airport security and was given the go-ahead.

Employees went to a grocery store and bought frozen carrots, peas and cauliflower. Now, instead of packing the wax-lined cardboard boxes with ice or gel packs, employees surround the lobster, live or cooked, with vegetables. The boxes can hold up to 15 live lobsters.

“Not much you can do with a pea — unless you have a pea shooter,” Mr. MacDonald said.

Andrea McCauley, spokeswoman for the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in Dallas, said she saw no problem with using frozen vegetables on U.S. flights.

“People have become very innovative,” she said. “We try to work with them to offer solutions that might help them make it through the checkpoint.”

Some airports, such as Los Angeles International and San Francisco International, are allowing duty-free items to be delivered by employees to customers already on the plane. Miss McCauley said that’s acceptable by TSA guidelines, but doesn’t help lobster or steak dealers because their products aren’t duty-free.

Clos Du Val winery in Napa, Calif., was advising customers to have wine shipped home. The winery also was selling sturdy shipping containers for customers to check wine as luggage. Still, temperature in the cargo hold is a concern.

Miss McCauley said the new restrictions have brought odd questions about what can and can’t come aboard.

The strangest question she has heard: Can you bring a goldfish on the plane?

The answer is yes — as long you don’t bring any water.

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