The Brancatelli File



August 10, 2006 -- You want the silver lining? 8/10 will go down as a day of confusion and frustration and massive delays. It'll go down as the day that Gillette and Procter & Gamble and Colgate-Palmolive and all the perfume houses and make-up companies and toiletries firms made a lot of money for nothing.

But 8/10 won't be another 9/11. Or 7/7. Or 3/11. Nobody died at an airport or on a plane, train or bus at the hands of a terrorist today.

There's your silver lining. We're all still here to kvetch another day. We don't have another bit of numeric shorthand for horrific death in the lexicon.

The days ahead will either prove or disprove the British claim that their law-enforcement agencies have smashed the biggest terror ring since 9/11. We're all justifiably cynical now. And less than 90 days from a mid-term election, everything, even life and death on the road, can seem like politics. There are too many moving parts, too many questions, too much unknown to us, to make any rational judgments today.

But let me offer some insight, great, small and disjointed, about the nuts and bolts of this extraordinary day. We may be living with its aftermath for many days and months to come on the road. Consider these first thoughts on what could become the new "new normal."

I have a feeling that the days of packing dopp kits and toiletry bags in our carry-on bags is over. Which means that those of us who still travel light enough to carry-on on business trips are going to need a place to buy deodorant and toothpaste and whatever personal-care products we need to get through the day. How long do you think it'll be before we see Right Guard or Colgate kiosks in hotel lobbies? How long will it be before fancy hotels start putting brand-name toiletries and cosmetics on the room-service menu? For that matter, how long do you think it'll be before some Web entrepreneur announces a service that allows you to order travel sizes of your favorites online and promises to have them waiting for you at your hotel?

I've been wearing eyeglasses since I was 10 years old and there hasn't been a single day in the intervening 43 years when I've been tempted to stick my finger--and a contact lens--in my eyes. So I've got no personal problem with the fact that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) won't let you bring contact-lens solution in your carry-on bag. Unless you want to give that Web entrepreneur $10 a bottle for hotel delivery of a day's worth of solution, you might want to consider visiting your optometrist and ordering up a few pairs of really stylish specs.

Here's another thing I believe we may never be allowed again: bringing our own supply of bottled water and other beverages through the security checkpoint and onto a plane. I can live with that. But here's a question that the Bush Administration and the TSA must answer. And answer quickly. Almost five years after 9/11, why aren't purchases from food shops and coffee bars beyond the security checkpoints safe to bring on board? You want to bar "outside" beverages, I can support that. I don't like it, but I can support it. But almost five years after 9/11, if the Chili's in the food court next to the gate inside the so-called "sterile area" is not secure, then we've lost the war on terrorism and political heads must roll. That is not too much to ask. I want to stay hydrated on the road and it should not be against the rules to buy a couple of bottles of spring water inside the sterile area and bring them on board. If the TSA doesn't change that rule by, say, election day, make them pay at the ballot box.

British authorities took the draconian step of barring all carry-on bags today, thus forcing travelers to check almost everything, including pricey electronic gear. I suspect the British no-carry-on rule won't last long, but I can see the time when the TSA says "no carry-on electronic gear." That may be a ban too far for some business travelers. But I suggest that we can and will adjust. Mobile phones won't be a problem because we can all switch to GSM phones, carry our SIM cards in our pockets and rent handsets on arrival. (And some sharp hotel general managers will probably create in-lobby cell-phone buffets.). Ditto for PDAs and music players. We can carry around memory cards and rent equipment when we arrive. Laptops, I admit, could be a little trickier. But manufacturers are making giant strides in thumb-drive technology. To some degree, we can already download our files, software and operating system included, to a tiny drive and carry it with us. Once again, we should be able to depend on hotels and Web entrepreneurs to have machines waiting for us at our destinations. Then all we have to do is plug in our thumb drive and work like it was our own machine.

Anyone who has spent more than a day on the road knows that commercial aviation is just that: commercial. The only guaranteed safe and secure plane is the one that never flies. But we don't ground the fleet because passengers demand that they be allowed to travel in exchange for accepting certain risks. Life on the road has always been a balancing act between what is guaranteed safe and what is commercially unacceptable to impose. We will get there. Honest. If we survived 9/11, we'll survive this. I guarantee it.

Think about it tomorrow as you wait at the security checkpoint for the once-a-year leisure traveler to finish arguing with the TSA agent about the fate of his or her half-empty tube of toothpaste.

Copyright © 1993-2006 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.