Aviation’s much-maligned 100ml liquid rule could be heading for the history books by 2024 thanks to the introduction of high-tech scanners. The restriction on carrying larger quantities of liquids, creams or gels in hand luggage – introduced as a “temporary measure” in the aftermath of a foiled transatlantic terror plot in 2006 – still irritates travellers across the globe, despite being widely dismissed by experts as pointless security theatre.
Major British airports currently use simple X-rays to see what’s inside the bags of passengers, but CT scanners – already installed at airports including Amsterdam Schiphol and recently trialled at Heathrow – produce a far more detailed 3D image. An announcement on the rollout of the technology across the UK is due before Christmas, with hopes high for both the relaxation of liquid rules and an end to the requirement for passengers to remove laptops and other electronic items from their cases.
It was way back in 2016 that Telegraph Travel first reported on CT scanners being tested at airports in the US and in 2019 Heathrow announced its own trials and a £50m investment in the technology. It seemed then that the liquids rule would soon be consigned to the past, but things have moved at a glacial pace ever since – with airports understandably eschewing expensive technological upgrades during the ruinous recent shutdown of global travel. In 2019 Boris Johnson said the rules would be eased at major UK airports by December 2022, but now 2024 is being mooted.
Heathrow’s chief executive, John Holland-Kaye, told The Times that Heathrow should have the required machines installed by mid-2024, a deadline imposed by the Department for Transport, with other UK airports likely to follow suit. “By then the normal passenger experience will be that liquids stay in bags,” he said.
It also remains possible that the CT scanners will be rolled out but some restrictions will remain. That’s the situation at Amsterdam Schiphol, where – despite the arrival of the scanners in 2021 – passengers are still advised to follow the old rules: carry liquids in 100ml containers and in a re-sealable, transparent one-litre bag. “Larger containers are only permitted if they are cleared by the scan and by a member of security staff,” its website adds, which rather suggests the changes will not have hastened queues at the Dutch hub. “If you want to be sure that you won’t have to hand something over, you should pack it in your hold baggage.”
At Ireland’s Shannon Airport, however, which also installed the scanners last year, there are no caveats. Its website states: “You can now carry your liquid items without size restriction in your carry-on luggage” and the airport says the move has halved the time passengers spend going through security.
Certainly any relaxation will be welcomed by passengers, particularly if it cuts queues. This summer saw chaos at understaffed airports across Europe, with many forced to miss flights because of jams at security. There’s also the small matter of the liquid rule’s dubious utility: experts have long claimed it is pointless.
“I would understand more if there was a total ban than a restriction,” said Philip Baum, editor of Aviation Security International, in an interview with Telegraph Travel in 2019. “It just demonstrates that governments around the world want to have tick-box security – they don’t want screeners to apply their common sense. All they have succeeded in doing is creating longer queues at checkpoints where screeners are spending all of their time looking for restricted items rather than looking for genuine threats.”
Six more airports annoyances that need to be ditched
Once the 100ml liquids rule is toast, let’s move on to the following irritations:
A lack of water fountains
Airports often claim to provide water fountains, but they can be hard to find or simply unappealing. At Copenhagen, for example, you are directed to sinks in the toilet offering lukewarm water. Head to a bar and you will often hit the hurdle of a jobsworth who refuses to fill up your bottle. Such scenarios should never happen: cold, clean and free water should be readily available in all airports.
In an age when even McDonald’s is willing to stump up unlimited free Wi-Fi for the price of a £1.19 cheeseburger (formerly 99p) it seems churlish for airports to offer anything less. But the majority of British airports still offer some caveats to their internet access. Some only provide slower Wi-Fi free of charge, before ratcheting up the price if you want to do something more arduous like watch a film (Newcastle, for example, charges £5 for a speedier connection). Others, like Edinburgh and Bristol, only offer a measly two hours’ free access, meaning a flight delay could cost you more than your patience.
Rip-off airport trains
With single fares from Paddington priced at £25, the Heathrow Express is, pound-for-pound, Britain’s most expensive rail journey, clocking in at around £2 per mile (a return fare costs £37).
The Gatwick Express from London Victoria is almost as costly: £18.50 for a single and £36.80 for a return – that’s a measly saving of 20p over two single tickets.
And special mention must go to the so-called “Stansted Express”. The service – from London Liverpool Street – is the only train that goes to Stansted. To call something “express” would suggest that there is an alternative, slower, service. This isn’t the Stansted Express, it’s just “the train to Stansted” (at least prices start from a relatively cheap £9.70).
Even if you’re able to persuade a loved one to ferry you to and from the airport, it could cost you. Only a handful of Britain’s airports allow drivers to drop off and pick up passengers in front of the main terminal building free of charge. Liverpool Airport charges a shocking £10 for the privilege, Edinburgh £8, and Bristol £7.
Other fleecing tactics
The Ikea-style entrance to Gatwick, where you’re forced to meander your way through a maze of duty-free shops, sums up the airport experience. You may as well ask a stranger to spend two hours frisking you for cash. Some airports even charge passengers for the plastic bags we must use to take liquids through security (though that will hopefully soon be history).
Enough about the airports themselves, let’s focus on the passengers. How many times at airport security have we watched with mounting frustration as the person ahead of us approaches the front of the queue without making any attempt to remove their jacket, unpack their laptop, or do any of the other things required of them? It isn’t as if these rules are new. It isn’t as if signs are not everywhere, with helpful illustrations, informing them of the process. It isn’t as if security officers haven’t spent the last 20 minutes bleating out the instructions over and over until you want to belt each one around the head with a plastic tray. Yet these tiresome fliers still wait until the very last moment to dig around in their pockets and separate their belongings, clearly of the opinion that their time is more valuable than everyone else’s. It’s time to get tough. Such people should be ordered to the back of the queue, and security staff handed tasers to deal with repeat offenders.