In normal times around the world, half a million people pass through airport security every hour. Many airline passengers say this is the worst part of the journey – especially the need to limit LAGs (liquids, aerosols and gels) to small containers and remove them from cabin luggage.
The rules were hastily introduced in 2006 as a temporary measure. Despite repeated promises, he stands in place.
In 2019, Boris Johnson will promise to ease rules at major UK airports by 1 December 2022, allowing larger quantities and eliminating the need for separate screening of liquids.
There’s no way this could happen in a week. But can stress ease by 2024? Simon Calder, former security officer and current at Gatwick airport Independent Travel reporter can help.
What are the passenger cabin baggage rules?
Rules about what you can put in your handbag have evolved over the decades in response to attacks – successful or unsuccessful.
No weapons may be carried, whether firearms, knives or explosives. But there are also strict rules about liquids, aerosols, gels, pastes, lotions and cosmetics, even extending to yogurt and soft cheese.
How did the rule of liquids come about?
In August 2006, the aviation industry – and puzzled passengers – awoke to see safety rules for passengers tightened literally overnight. The government announced it had uncovered a terror plot to blow up transatlantic jets bound for North America from Heathrow.
The perpetrators intended to retrieve the materials for the improvised explosive devices found on a number of aircraft. Ingredients derived from hydrogen peroxide would be hidden in beverage containers.
The terrorists aimed to assemble the bombs on board before detonating and destroying the plane; they were later convicted of crimes such as conspiracy to murder and conspiracy to cause the explosion.
The bosses of British airlines were called in the early hours of 10 August 2006 to say that their passengers would be prohibited from carrying anything other than bags or wallets into an airplane cabin. Even transatlantic flights of the pens were banned on the grounds that the ink they contained was liquid.
A concession has been made for nursing mothers: they can buy milk for their babies at the checkpoint, but only on the condition that they taste it first to prove it’s real.
Luggage systems couldn’t handle two or three times as many items as usual, and Heathrow airport came to a near standstill. Flight networks elsewhere in the UK and Europe were also affected.
And then …?
Three months later, the rules have been relaxed – but with the strict limitations that apply today. No container may exceed 100 ml and must be transported in a resealable clear plastic bag with a maximum volume of one liter.
Even the very modest relaxation of the rules—allowing drinks purchased at airports to be picked up at checkpoints in a sealed “tamper-proof bag” (Steb)—was too late in its implementation.
Many passengers are still caught and lose their expensive airport purchases, as drinks are not allowed at the airport where they change planes.
While the borders were brought as a “temporary measure”, airport security technology caught up. But progress was painfully slow.
Is there a technological solution?
Yes, and it’s already being used at airports in the west of Ireland, such as Shannon, where “liquids, gels, pastes, lotions and cosmetics in containers of all sizes” are allowed to pass through security.
Expensive scanners use computed tomography (CT), as do medical scanners. The machines can analyze the molecular structure of the contents of a passenger bag, detect a potential threat and present a three-dimensional image to security guards.
Why are we waiting?
Progress in improving airport technology was painfully slow. In 2019, the government told all major UK airports to have advanced IT scanners at security checkpoints by 1 December 2022.
Boris Johnson said at the time: “By making travel at UK airports easier than ever before, this new equipment will help amplify the vital role our airports play in securing the UK’s position as a global hub for trade, tourism and investment.”
That didn’t happen: during the Covid-19 pandemic, airports faced catastrophic losses as passenger numbers plummeted and did not have to make the necessary multi-million pound investments.
What’s going on now?
London Heathrow, by far the UK’s busiest airport, is in the process of installing the necessary machinery. John Holland-Kaye, CEO of the airport, said: Times That Heathrow has been given a deadline of mid-2024 from the DfT.
“Until then, the normal passenger experience will be for liquids to remain in bags,” he said.
If the yet unconfirmed DfT instruction applies to other major airports, the same will apply to Gatwick, Manchester, Stansted, Luton, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Glasgow, Bristol, Belfast International, Newcastle, Liverpool, Leeds Bradford, East Midlands. , London City, Aberdeen, Belfast City, Southampton, Jersey, Cardiff and Southend (these are airports handling over one million passengers a year in 2019).
So is everything okay?
Not necessarily: passenger confusion is a constant problem for aviation safety. Nothing has changed yet, but some travelers may conclude that it has.
in response to the story TimesA spokesperson for the Ministry of Transport (DfT) said Independent: “At UK airports passengers should not carry liquid containers larger than 100ml through security and both liquids and electronics must be removed from their cabin bags at airport security checkpoints.”
This is not entirely true: some smaller Scottish airports, such as Barra, Campbeltown and Tiree, have not had security checks since 2017.
Worldwide, the lack of compliance is a major problem for aviation safety professionals and passengers.
Liquids are limited at most airports but can be left in the passenger’s bag. Laptops and tablets such as iPads should be removed in the UK and most other countries, but not in some countries.
In Israel, the procedures are completely different. “Passengers must arrive three hours before departure for the security check procedure,” officials say. Sometimes there are intense interrogations by the authorities and the laptops have to be removed. But liquids are allowed without restrictions.
The main issue: passengers should not expect aviation safety to be the same around the world (or even the UK).
Will this cost me more?
Airports that collectively invest hundreds of millions of pounds will seek a return and this may include raising fees. But the new technology should save for airports by reducing personnel costs.
Willie Walsh, managing director of the International Air Transport Association (Iata), which represents airlines around the world, said: “Implementing this technology shouldn’t be a big bill. In fact, simplified processes should yield significant efficiencies.”
“Fast delivery should be possible. The technology has already been used successfully and for a long time at various airports around the world with measurable improvements in passenger experience.”
Will aviation security remain a permanent pain?
No. In 2019, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) described the current safety situation as “no longer sustainable”. He has been working with airports for over ten years on a project called “Smart Security”.
Ultimately, metal detectors and security searches that hover over many passengers must be eliminated, with technology that assesses potential threats more effectively than people watching screens.
The passenger should be able to walk without difficulty in a corridor surrounded by detectors, barely aware that they are being controlled.
The checkpoints will remain staffed, but security personnel will be freed up to examine the behavior of passengers, which is what people do best, and identify “contacts” for further investigation.