When will the ban on liquids be lifted at airports?
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When will the ban on liquids be lifted at airports?

Nov 03, 2023

Chris Haslam

Chief Travel Writer

Tuesday April 4 2023, 09:00am

Thanks to the introduction of new 3D scanners, Teesside Airport and London City Airport have both scrapped the requirement to remove liquids and laptops at pre-flight security checks. This game-changing technology will speed up the time it takes to get from the check-in desk to the gate, and revolutionise a process that's been largely unchanged for almost two decades. Here's what you need to know.

Main photo: security notices at Luton Airport (Alamy)

Most airports around the world have a limit on the amount of liquids you can take through airport security in your carry on luggage. At the moment, the cap is 1 litre in most cases, split across containers with no more than 100ml of liquid, gel or cream inside. All of the liquids must be put inside a clear, resealable plastic bag that measures approximately 20cm x 20cm, and removed from your luggage to be scanned at airport security.

The rules were put into place in 2006, after the Metropolitan police foiled an al-Qaeda plot to bring down at least seven transatlantic flights using liquid explosives concealed in 500ml soft drinks bottles in August of that year. Immediately, authorities in the UK and US banned the carriage of all liquids except baby milk in hand luggage.

In November 2006, the ban was relaxed to allow for liquids, gels or creams in quantities of 100ml or less to be carried onboard as long as they were packed in a clear plastic bag and removed from luggage before screening. Within months, most other countries had followed suit, and a rule widely criticised as an overreaction had the immediate effect of creating long security queues at airports all over the world as passengers took extra time to unpack and repack hand luggage, and security staff were forced to make more manual inspections after scanning.

The UK government believes the introduction of advanced computed tomography (CT) scanners will allow the restrictions on the carriage of liquids to be lifted, and the Department for Transport has given major airports including Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Manchester, Newcastle and Edinburgh until 2024 to invest in the new technology — also known as 3D scanning.

The government confirmed in December 2022 that airports will have until June 2024 to upgrade their screening equipment and processes, meaning the 100ml liquid rule will be extended to two litres. Teesside Airport and London City Airport have both now introduced the changes. In addition, the requirement to remove laptops from hand luggage has also been scrapped. Elsewhere, Shannon and Donegal airports in Ireland, which have 3D scanners in operation, have already lifted their bans.

CT Scanners such as the HI-SCAN 6040 CTiX — developed by London-based Smiths Detection and on trial at Heathrow since 2019 — use advanced x-ray technology to create layered 3D images that security staff can tilt and rotate in order to better identify the contents of cabin baggage. Coupled with the latest explosives detection capabilities, the new scanners can detect a threat without the need for hand baggage to be unpacked, liquids to be limited to 100ml or the use of clear plastic bags.

Laptops, along with tablets, large cameras and any other electronic devices that currently need to be put on the belt in a separate tray can be left in your luggage where 3D scanners are in operation. In theory, this development, in conjunction with the end of the liquids ban, will greatly reduce the time taken for passengers to clear security.

Hand luggage allowances aside, there are a few other restrictions you should be aware of when going through airport security. Weapons are obviously banned — but so is anything that might reasonably be confused for a weapon on an x-ray. That might include toy guns, swords and even something as innocuous as a snow globe. Hazardous materials fall into the same category.

Some destinations operate bio-secure rules, which means food items and certain toiletries (insect repellent for example) may also be restricted.

If you’re carrying a battery pack, make sure it's suitable for air travel. The rules can vary between destinations and airlines but generally passengers are allowed to carry up to two spare lithium ion batteries (101–160Wh) or Lithium metal batteries (2-8 grams). If you have a suitcase with a built-in battery pack, this will need to be removed and taken as a carry on luggage.

It already has. The adoption of facial recognition technology at around 100 airports, including Beijing International, Tokyo's Narita, Istanbul, Fort Lauderdale, Basel, Hamburg, Munich and Vienna, has driven down the time spent in queues both land and airside. The UK is a latecomer to the biometric revolution but in January 2023 Heathrow announced it was trialling facial recognition at Terminal 5. Airport bosses believe that biometrics will allow check-in, bag drop and boarding to be completed in less than 60 seconds per passenger, thus reducing the dependence on staff and increasing the time for airside shopping.

All you need is a biometric passport — which has an embedded chip containing unique identifiers such as face, fingerprint or iris data — and a boarding pass, and registration is quick and easy. The process can be completed at home, using a mobile phone to take a selfie, or at the airport, using self-service terminals that scan travel documents, take a high-resolution portrait and generate an encrypted biometric profile. Thereafter, bag drop, security, lounge access and boarding can be completed by simply glancing at facial recognition cameras at each barrier, thereby allowing fast-track progress from check-in to departure.

Easily identified by the gold camera logo on the cover, a biometric passport has a microchip embedded within it that contains identifying information such as your name, date of birth, fingerprints and facial and iris data. If your passport isn't biometric then it's probably out of date: every British passport issued since 2010 has the chip embedded.

Additional reporting by Qin Xie.