Last August, the international commercial aviation industry was left reeling by a terror plot in Britain involving liquids on airplanes. Passengers were immediately banned from bringing nearly all liquids on board in their carry-on luggage, including beverages, some medicines and toiletries.

In September, those rules — the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) ban on liquids, gels and aerosols known as the 311 initiative — were relaxed to allow bottles up to 3 ounces of most liquids, contained in one one-quart zipped plastic bag that can be easily removed from carry-on luggage for X-ray security inspection.

Airports throughout the country experienced long lines in the aftermath of the bans as passengers got used to the new rules. Along with increased security and vigilance came burgeoning trash cans, full of bottles and cans that could no longer be taken past the security checkpoints.

For building service contrators servicing airports, the bans were a lesson in reacting quickly and effectively to the sharp increases in garbage as passengers had no choice but to discard any larger bottles of liquids they had.

“When this went into effect, the first couple weeks, it was really bad, in that the word had to get out to everybody and it took a while,” says Jack Deem, UNICCO general manager at Miami International Airport. The dramatic increase in trash at checkpoints initially affected the janitorial staff, but after a few weeks, additional receptacles solved the problem.

Initial response
The first 30 to 45 days of the initial ban were a big deal at airports, for personnel, security and travelers, says Allan Berkowitz, sales manager for Scrub Inc, which services O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.

“In the beginning there was a lot more trash because people didn’t know what they couldn’t take and people were still kind of like little kids, testing the waters,” he says. “And rules were changing as they were figuring it out. So in the beginning the big thing was to get enough wastebaskets in place and to remove the trash.”

Some BSCs were so bogged down that additional workers were added to accommodate the huge workload created by the bans, but neither Scrub nor UNICCO needed to take such a drastic step.

“It created a trash problem but once the public got kind of used to what the rules were, that improved considerably because people quit taking stuff in their carry-ons so there wasn’t as much stuff to discard, and they figured out the rules inside the secure areas so everybody knew what they had to do and everything quieted down after that,” Berkowitz says.

Communication between airport personnel, airlines, TSA, vendors and BSCs played a crucial role in the successful implementation of the bans and minimization of their impacts, says Deem.

“In terms of the actual operational affects on us, after we got used to the fact that there was going to be more volume of trash at the checkpoint, it really has had very little impact on us,” he says.

That’s not to say the airport hasn’t been impacted, Deem adds. For example, the volume of trash bags it has had to provide ballooned almost 50 percent in the past year. So while trash deposited is up, the system UNICCO has in place to transport trash outside was able to handle that increase.

In Miami, much of the burden in the wake of the bans fell on the city and the airlines, which had to find suppliers from which to purchase wastebaskets. For UNICCO, it was just a matter of changing trash liners more frequently.

Scrub had a similar experience in Chicago.

“We just had to haul it away,” Berkowitz says of the trash. “They had to figure out how to collect it.”

After the storm
Things have calmed down at airports, now that passengers, security and airport personnel have become familiar with the ban — but they have not returned to normal. The volume of trash at most, if not all, airports did spike in the months following the institution of the ban, and amounts remain undoubtedly higher than they were prior to the rules being put in place.

Currently, there are no plans to remove the ban, says TSA Spokeswoman Lara Uselding.

A security situation such as the liquids ban is just one recent example demonstrating that BSCs need to be prepared to react and respond, cooperating with the TSA and other governmental agencies, at any given time.

BSCs can take away valuable lessons from such situations — whether they’ve gone through them or not.

Airport employees are held to a high standard, so maintaining a quality workforce through proper screening and training is important, says Berkowitz. Companies have to be flexible and willing to deal with any situation that arises, he says. Beyond that, a good communication system within the company and with airport officials will facilitate any response to the unknown.

“You don’t know what it’s going to be so you just make sure that you have a communications network so that your people, your management, can communicate with your supervision and your supervision can communicate with employees and that that comes across as fast as possible and so there’s a chain of communication that happens and you do what you have to do,” Berkowitz says.

The bans also were a good reminder of the integral role janitorial workers play in security enforcement in airports. UNICCO’s staff has been intimately involved in the security program at Miami International, Deem says, and is trained to recognize suspicious packages, people and situations.

“Obviously, cleaning up is important but we have more people running around here in the public areas than any other organization, so it’s very important that we be the eyes of security,” Deem adds.