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New flight rules on liquids cause minor delays

Confiscated items head into a bin at Geneva airport on Monday

(Keystone)

The introduction of new rules restricting the amount of liquids passengers can carry on board planes has caused only limited delays in Switzerland.

Airport authorities in Geneva said fears of major disruption on Monday had failed to materialise as passengers heeded warnings about the restrictions on items such as shampoo, toothpaste and gels.

"It's gone pretty well so far," Didier Steullet, responsible for security at Geneva airport, told swissinfo. "Passengers have been very understanding, apart from one or two exceptions, and as time moves on things will only get better."

The new security measures, applied by the European Union, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland, follow a plot foiled by British police in August to blow up flights to the United States using liquid explosives.

Geneva airport spokesman Philippe Roy said only one morning flight had failed to leave on time because of delays in getting passengers past security checks.

A member of easyJet's check-in staff reported that queues in the airport's French sector had been "horrendous" at one point, but everyone had succeeded in boarding on time.

"There were no real hiccups," she said. "Most people have known about these rules for some time and were happy to comply."

Security checks

Under the regulations, liquids or gels are restricted to 100ml containers and must be carried in a clear re-sealable plastic bag, with a maximum capacity of one litre. Certain exceptions apply for medicines and baby food.

Geneva airport has stockpiled 500,000 plastic bags for those who leave home without one but this free supply is expected to be exhausted within a month. Then it will be up to passengers to provide their own although the airport is considering installing dispensers.

Proof that the message has already got through to the majority of passengers was clear to see the other side of passport control. The large blue wheelie bins stationed next to the security gates contained only a thin layer of confiscated items.

Norwegian Heidi Sjetne, who was travelling with a young baby, had certainly done her homework. Her hair gel was correctly bagged, and her offspring's dietary needs were taken care of.

"I knew not to bring along any liquids, and I don't have to worry about baby food because I'm breastfeeding," she said.

Passenger Sandra Biyoghe had also paid attention to recent news reports. She had packed banned items in her checked luggage, like most of her fellow passengers.

"During check-in, I saw two elderly ladies who weren't aware of the changes and had to repack their bags but otherwise everyone seemed to come prepared," she said.

Keeping cool

Senior security officer Margareth Engel said that while the bulk of passengers had kept their cool, a few had blown their top at the sight of seeing their personal possessions binned. Perhaps understandably in one case, as the offending items included fine wines and a bottle of cognac.

"Some of them said it was scandalous that items were having to be thrown away," she said, adding that all confiscated items would be destroyed.

French dairy farmers are also unlikely to make happy travellers: Geneva airport has declared that soft cheeses such as Camembert have to comply with the 100ml limit while hard cheeses such as Gruyère are not deemed a security risk.

Although airports say they have been aided by the fact that November is not a peak month for air travel, the situation could prove more problematic come the weekend when passenger numbers increase.

But Roy said he was confident that by then the message would have spread more widely and people would allow sufficient time to reach boarding gates. He advised passengers to allow at least 90 minutes – and at least two hours for those travelling to the United States.

"The more people realise that they need to travel with a minimum of items, the more the start to their voyage will be easier and the queues shorter," he said.

swissinfo, Adam Beaumont in Geneva

In brief

The authorities at Zurich airport said 18 flights were delayed for an average of 14 minutes, owing to longer queues.

Spokeswoman Sonja Zöchling said the biggest problem was with transfer passengers from outside Europe who were unaware of the new restrictions.

According to the authorities at Basel airport, a few flights were delayed for between 10 and 20 minutes but there were no major problems.

Swiss airports say the introduction of standardised procedures will lift confusion among travellers who have been banned from carrying liquid items through airport security in Britain but not in Switzerland and other countries.

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Key facts

Passengers are still allowed to buy duty-free alcohol and perfumes.
Security experts deem these areas and products to be safe.
Restrictions on the size of hand luggage are due to come into force on April 17.
A carry-on bag will not be allowed to exceed 56cm x 45cm x 25cm.

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