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Airport security fluid regulations – what’s changing?

In normal times around the world, half a million people go through airport security every hour. Many airline passengers say this is the worst part of travel – specifically having to limit LAGs (liquids, aerosols and gels) to small containers and extracting them from their hand luggage.

The rules were hastily introduced in 2006 as an interim measure. Despite repeated promises, they remain in place.

In 2019, Boris Johnson promised to relax the rules at major UK airports by December 1, 2022, allowing larger volumes and removing the need for separate fluid scanning.

With a week to go, there’s no chance of that happening. But can stress decrease by 2024? Simon Calder, former security officer at Gatwick Airport and current Independent travel correspondent can help.

What is the traveler’s hand baggage policy?

The rules on what can be packed in hand luggage have evolved in response to attacks – successful or not – over the decades.

Weapons, whether firearms, knives or explosives, are not allowed. But strict rules also apply to liquids, sprays, gels, pastes, lotions and cosmetics, even for yoghurts and soft cheeses.

How did the principle of fluids come about?

In August 2006, the airline industry – and confused passengers – woke up to find that passenger safety rules had been tightened literally overnight. The government has announced that it has uncovered a terrorist plot to blow up transatlantic flights from Heathrow to North America.

The perpetrators intended to take components of improvised explosive devices on board several planes. Ingredients derived from hydrogen peroxide were supposed to be hidden in containers with soft drinks.

The goal of the terrorists was to collect the bombs on board before detonating them and destroying the aircraft; they were later convicted of crimes including conspiracy to murder and conspiracy to cause an explosion.

British airline bosses were summoned in the early morning of August 10, 2006 to inform their passengers that they were not allowed to bring anything other than a handbag or wallet into the cabin. Even pens were banned on transatlantic flights because the ink they contained was liquid.

One concession was made for nursing mothers: they could take milk for their baby through the checkpoint, but only if they tried first to show that it was real.

Baggage systems couldn’t handle two or three times as many items, and Heathrow Airport came to a complete standstill. Airline networks in other parts of the UK and Europe were also affected.

And then …?

Three months later, the rules were relaxed – but with the strict restrictions that apply today. No container may have a capacity greater than 100 ml and must be transported in a resealable transparent plastic bag with a maximum capacity of one litre.

Even a very modest relaxation of the rules – to allow beverage purchases at the airport through checkpoints in a sealed ‘Security Visible Bag’ (Steb) – has been significantly delayed in implementation.

Many passengers still get caught and lose their expensive airport purchases because drinks are not allowed by the airport where they are transferring.

The limits were put in place as a “temporary measure” while airport security technology was catching up. But progress was painfully slow.

Is there a technological solution?

Yes, and it is already used at airports such as Shannon in the west of Ireland, where “liquids, gels, pastes, lotions and cosmetics in containers of any size” are allowed through security.

Expensive scanners use computed tomography (CT), as used in medical scanners. The machines can analyze the molecular structure of the contents of a passenger’s baggage, detect potential threats and provide security officers with a three-dimensional image.

Why are we waiting?

Progress in improving airport technology has been painfully slow. In 2019, the government ordered all major UK airports to have advanced CT scanners at security checkpoints by 1 December 2022.

Boris Johnson said at the time: “By facilitating travel through UK airports, this new equipment will help enhance the vital role our airports play in securing the UK’s position as a global hub for trade, tourism and investment.”

This did not happen: during the Covid-19 pandemic, airports suffered catastrophic losses as passenger numbers fell and they were not obliged to make the required multimillion-dollar investments.

What’s happening now?

London Heathrow, which is by far the UK’s busiest airport, is in the process of installing the required machinery. said airport chief executive John Holland-Kaye Times that Heathrow had been given a mid-2024 deadline by the DfT.

“Until then, the normal passenger experience will be that liquids will remain in the bags,” he said.

If the DfT statement – which has not been confirmed – applies to other major airports, the same applies 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 serving over a million passengers a year in 2019).

So are you okay?

Not necessarily: passenger confusion is a constant problem for aviation safety. So far, nothing has changed, although some travelers may think that it has.

In response to the story of Timesa spokesman for the Department for Transport (DfT) said. Independent: “Passengers at UK airports are not allowed to carry containers of liquids larger than 100ml through security, and both liquids and electronics must be removed from hand luggage at airport security checkpoints.”

That’s not entirely true: some small Scottish airports, including Barra, Campbeltown and Tiree, have not been screened since 2017.

Around the world, non-compliance is a key concern for aviation security professionals – and passengers.

At many airports, liquids are limited but can be left in your travel bag. Laptops and tablets such as iPads must be removed in the UK and many other countries, but in some countries they don’t.

In Israel, the procedures are completely different. Authorities say: “Passengers should be present three hours before departure for the security screening procedure.” Sometimes officials conduct intensive interrogations and laptops have to be removed. But liquids are allowed without restriction.

The main problem: passengers should not expect aviation security to be the same anywhere in the world (or even across the UK).

Will it cost me more?

Airports that collectively invest hundreds of millions of pounds will be looking for a payback – and that could include raising fees. But the new technology should reduce personnel costs, which is a saving for airports.

Willie Walsh, CEO of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) – representing airlines around the world – said: “Implementing this technology shouldn’t come with a big bill. In fact, streamlined processes should deliver significant efficiencies.”

“Rapid implementation should be possible. This technology has already been used successfully for a long time at various airports around the world, which has resulted in a measurable improvement in the passenger experience.”

Will aviation safety remain a permanent concern?

Not. In 2019, the International Air Transport Association (Iata) described the current safety situation as “unsustainable”. For over a decade, he has been cooperating with airports on the “Smart Security” project.

Ultimately, metal detectors and screening of many passengers must be eliminated, and technology assesses possible threats more effectively than people watching screens.

The passenger should be able to move freely in a corridor surrounded by detectors, almost unaware that he is being checked.

Checkpoints will still be staffed, but security staff will be released to do what people do best, which is to study passenger behavior and identify “persons of interest” for further investigation.


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