The 100ml airport liquid limit is ending, but there’s a catch
A few years ago I travelled to L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue in France with a couple of friends, a swift and spontaneous two-night getaway. Before leaving the town, one of my friends invested his final euros in a jar of tapenade to take home to his wife.
Only, thanks to a foiled terror plot in 2006, she would never receive the gift. Tapenade, the Marseilles airport security staff ruled, was a liquid. The jar was dutifully removed and destroyed.
Soon holidaymakers will be able to board a plane with as much tapenade as they please (within reason) – and, for that matter, even more practical items like drinking water, suncream and deodorant – for the rule limiting hand luggage liquids to 100ml is on the way out, and Teesside Airport has become the first in the UK to scrap the checks.
The in-flight liquid limit was introduced in 2006 after British police foiled an Islamist terror plot to detonate explosives on transatlantic flights. They planned to smuggle liquid explosives disguised as soft drinks in their hand luggage, in what would have been the deadliest terror attack since 9/11. After the foiled plot, the Government raised the terror threat from “severe” to “critical” and as a precautionary measure banned hand luggage on all planes.
The hand luggage allowance was soon relaxed, but the liquid ban remained – not just in Britain but in countries around the world. To this day, you cannot get through UK airport security checks with any liquids over 100ml in volume, and any that do meet regulations must be sealed in a transparent resealable bag. But that is all changing.
The end of the 100ml liquid limit
New CT X-Ray technology means that airports will be able to scan liquids within hand luggage, providing security staff with a detailed 3D image of the contents rather than the existing 2D images. Using this new technology and "highly advanced threat detection algorithms", potentially dangerous liquids will be flagged up for further checks. This means that passengers will be able to travel with up to two litres per person of liquids, gels and puréed foodstuffs in their bags, and they will no longer need to place laptops and other electronic devices on a separate tray.
Already a number of airports, including Miami International Airport, Leonardo da Vinci International Airport in Rome and Schiphol in Amsterdam, have started making use of the tech, and the UK Government has given airports until June 2024 to upgrade their screening equipment. Some UK airports have undergone trials over the past year, so passengers may have seen the new scanners in action already. But two airports are particularly ahead of the curve.
In early March, City Airport revealed it would be the first to scrap the 100ml liquid limit in time for the Easter Holidays. However, Teesside International Airport has quietly pipped them to the post, rolling out two cutting-edge scanners which enable passengers to board flights to destinations including Dalaman, Alicante, Amsterdam and Corfu without removing liquid miniatures from their bags. Since Schiphol has also deployed the new scanners, this means that a passenger can now complete an entire return flight without any 100ml liquid limits.
Liverpool and Luton airports are set to follow suit towards the end of 2023, and Gatwick, Stansted and Heathrow have confirmed they are working to deploy the technology to meet the 2024 deadline. Manchester, Birmingham, East Midlands, Aberdeen, Glasgow, Southampton and Edinburgh confirmed they are also working on updating their systems in time for next summer.
John Strickland, aviation consultant and analyst, said: “This will be a great reduction in stress for passengers, reducing times for security checks and helping flight punctuality. From the airport's point of view, it will leave more opportunity to improve revenues in retail and food outlets if passengers have more time and are more relaxed.”
There is, however, a catch. If travelling to an overseas airport that does not have the relevant technology, passengers will not be able to take their oversized liquids in their hand luggage on the return leg. If they have not paid for a checked-in bag, this means they will have no choice but to consume all of their tapenade, slather themselves with suncream, and leave whatever remains behind. That, or distribute their liquids into little 100ml containers.
As it stands, a fraction of the EU’s 347 airports are using the new technology, and the decision to expand liquid allowances on flights is a governmental issue, meaning that the majority of passengers will have to wait a while to feel the full benefits of the rule change.
What does the future hold for airports?
There are other ways that the airport security experience could improve with the dawning of new technologies. Already, fingerprint and iris verification are used by security at some airports, and it is predicted that biometrics and facial recognition systems will one day replace the need for a physical passport.
Kevin O’Sullivan, lead engineer at SITA Lab, told The Telegraph:
“With the arrival of things like biometrics and better risk profiling of travellers coming through. I’d like to think over the next decade, when you arrive after an international flight, you’ll walk down a long corridor and that is the immigration process. Your biometrics will be checked. You’ll be picked out, if necessary, but otherwise you’ll just walk to the exit. It’ll make a huge difference.”
In-flight mobile data will soon become the norm on flights to Europe, after the EU announced in November 2022 that airlines can safely provide 5G technology on planes; the deadline for member states to comply is June 30, 2023. The United States is unlikely to allow 5G coverage on flights any time soon, however, as the frequencies are higher and there are concerns that they could cause harmful interference with aircraft.
There are also companies developing sophisticated robots that may be able to replace sniffer dogs at airports.The California-based biotechnology company, Koniku, is developing a product that can detect a range of scents, such as explosive chemicals and drugs, in a matter of seconds. It is believed that such machinery could be less fallible than sniffer dogs, which can be prone to false positives if fatigued, and must undergo significant training before being deployed.
However, given how long it has taken the aviation industry to finally update the 100ml liquids rule (17 years), don’t expect innovations like facial recognition technology and robot sniffer dogs to be unveiled at Luton Airport in the near future.