Asia could serve as model of efficiency for other countries In the past week, even as American authorities have begun relaxing the ban on passengers carrying liquids on board aircraft, Britain has been pushing the European Union to enforce a similar blanket ban. If it gets its way, flying is going to remain uncomfortable, especially for frequent flyers used to packing everything they need into a single carry-on bag. Things might be smoother if legislators and security officials from around the world came to Asia to see how efficient security checks are carried out, guaranteeing both the safety of aircraft and comfort of passengers. Certainly, Hong Kong could be the model. Security queues are well organised and swiftly processed. You feel that these people know what they are doing - smart folk using smart equipment. You don't have to undress to go through the detectors and the machines pick up keys or nail files in pockets, and identify clippers, cans of shaving foam or suspicious liquids in hand baggage. Take the US as the other paradigm. Getting through security at busy airports like New York or Washington can be like entering a scrum to secure tickets for a pop concert, with uniformed staff bawling instructions over a yapping recorded announcement detailing the new security measures. In front of the machine, passengers have to do a tedious striptease, disrobing themselves of coats and jackets, shoes and belts, as well as the contents of their pockets. Since 9/11, US security staff are more alert and less inclined to joke and gossip. Living in Washington in the late 1990s, I felt that airport security was a joke, and many staff were comedians who had failed to pass the audition. But even today, it seems few US security staff would make the cut at Mensa and their equipment has not kept up with the array of techniques terrorists have at their disposal. In particular, the security staff have an inability to distinguish between harmless and potentially hazardous liquids. It may not be commonplace, but it makes only small headlines when one of the 753 airports in the US has to be evacuated or thousands of passengers re-checked because security staff have fallen asleep at the machine or a sniffer dog has mistaken cosmetics for explosives. But still, security there sometimes seems haphazard. In Chicago and Washington during last month's security scare triggered by a plot to blow up transatlantic airliners, the announcements said no liquids were allowed on board, but no one was checking at the gate. Other airports fall between Hong Kong and the US. London's Heathrow, the principal airport in the latest scare, has probably the best staff when it comes to doing a manual body search - swift, thorough and no-nonsense. For several years Heathrow staff have been confiscating opened bottles or cans at the security check. But London has long been underfunded, understaffed and unable to cope with the queues of people even before the summer terror alert. More than seven weeks after the initial scare, countries have begun relaxing restrictions. US officials spent weeks determining how much liquid explosive would be needed to cause catastrophic damage to an aircraft. From last week they allowed passengers to carry 90ml bottles of liquids and gels onto aircrafts, as long as all the items fit into a single, litre-sized, zip-top plastic bag to be presented for inspection at checkpoints. Across the pond, the restrictions are more bewildering. British airport operator BAA has lifted its ban on certain items. Solid cosmetics are allowed - meaning lipstick, lip balm, powder, brushes and eyeliner (pencil type) are OK, but not eye cream, gels, creams, liquid foundation, mascara or nail varnish. The only exceptions are prescription medicine and baby milk tested by the mother in front of security. The global air security system is a bewildering mess. Perhaps it is time for the two groups to get together across the continents to compose a sensible overhaul of security facilities. We will be featuring this column on executive travel occasionally. If you have comments about this or other travel issues, you can contact Kevin at firstname.lastname@example.org .