Home Ask the Editor Q&A: Are the rules on taking liquids through airport security finally changing?

Q&A: Are the rules on taking liquids through airport security finally changing?

The next generation CT scanners means you won't have to remove your liquids from your bag.

by Sharron Livingston
Liquids in bag


Restrictions are in the process of being eased on taking liquids and toiletries through airport security. When is this likely to be rolled out?

A:Millions of people are forced to pass through airport security every single day. Belts, sometimes shoes, certainly laptops, and liquids –  a total of 10 containers with a maximum of 100 ml of liquid in each in a clear plastic bag – must be placed in trays to be screened. It takes an age and puts a dampener on the whole travel process.

The alternative is to pack toiletries in the hold luggage or to buy whatever you need at airport shops. 

The rules were put into place in 2006 after a foiled terrorist plot but were only supposed to be a temporary measure. Eighteen years later we still have to tolerate the queues and accompanying groans as we shuffle slowly through security as belongings are screened.

With the UK’s eight biggest airlines planning to fly 150 million more passengers a year (imagine 300,000 extra jumbo jets to get the size of it), this status quo becomes unsustainable.

There was some hope in 2019 when former prime minister Boris Johnson talked of easing the rules at some UK airports by 1st December 2022. However, the Covid pandemic put paid to that. The present prime minister Rish Sunak extended the deadline until June 2024.

London Heathrow, London Gatwick and Manchester airports are set to miss the deadline. This is because some new scanners will be in place, and other lanes will be operating the current scanners, meaning 100ml limits to carry-on liquids will still apply leaving travellers confused.

Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said:

“It’s very disappointing that some airports may miss the government deadline to install new CT security scanners by June this year. By allowing passengers to keep items like laptops and liquids in their bags, these scanners had the potential to drastically cut security queues in time for the peak summer travel season.

“With different rules and processes now likely to apply at different airports, it’s essential passengers check before they travel. Unfortunately, the lack of consistency is likely to be confusing for a lot of travellers – and may lead to further hold ups.”

Heathrow has 146 security lanes, more than all the other UK airports combined making installation a complex operation. A spokesperson for Heathrow said: “Heathrow has to replace 146 lanes, while some of the smaller airports have less than 10 to replace, this shows the magnitude of the work ongoing at Heathrow while we continue to ensure smooth security experiences for passengers.”

Some of Heathrow’s terminals – T2, T3 and T5 – already have some new scanners, with T4 expected to have some by the summer. Manchester Airport says it is well on its way to completion by the end of the year while Gatwick expects to be fully ready in the first three months of 2025

What now?

Last year London City Airport and Teesside International Airport implemented state-of-the-art CT scanners that allow for clearer 3D images, so passengers can go through security without having to take out their liquids from their bags and board their flight to Corfu or Amsterdam unfrazzled.

City Airport has released a report showing a 50 per cent reduction in passenger queue times one year after the rollout of CT security scanners. Passengers can now also take up to 2 litres bottles and are no longer restricted by 100ml liquid bottles, and can also leave large electronic items, like laptops, in their bags as they pass through security screening.

There is a snag though. On the return journey the airport may not have measures in place, so old rules apply. It could be a problem if you haven’t got checked-in luggage. In this instance,  use up your liquids or decant into 100ml containers for the return journey. Until there is uniformity, sticking to the current rules is advised.

Luke Petherbridge, Director of Public Affairs at ABTA – The Travel Association said:

“What travellers need now, as we head towards the peak months for overseas travel, is clarity about what to do when going through airport security.

“When fully implemented, the new airport scanners will make things faster and strengthen security. However, the recent extensions from the Government show that there is still some way to go before the new security rules are consistently in place across UK airports.

“Our best advice is to prepare for your travels with the existing rules in mind. That way, you’ll be ready to comply with whatever the scenario is, avoiding any unnecessary delays through security and any difficulties when returning from your destination.”

Smart Security

The International Air Transport Association (Iata) has long insisted that the present measures are unsustainable. They have an eye on “Smart Security”. The ultimate aim is to wave goodbye pat-downs. Robots may replace sniffer dogs, and iris or facial recognition may find their way into the system some vague time in the future in effect making the physical passport redundant.

It may take a while, but, then again, we have waited 18 years for the aviation industry to update the 100ml liquids restrictions rule and for the rollout.

Current liquid allowances in your hand luggage

  • you can carry up to containers that hold no more than 100ml each
  • containers must be in a single, transparent, resealable plastic bag, which holds no more than a litre and measures approximately 20cm x 20cm
  • contents must fit comfortably inside the bag so it can be sealed
  • the bag must not be knotted or tied at the top
  • you’re limited to 1 plastic bag per person
  • you must show the bag at the airport security point

What is a liquid?

  • soup, jam, honey and syrups
  • creams, lotions, oils, perfumes, mascara and lip gloss
  • sprays, including shaving foam, hairspray and spray deodorants
  • pastes, including toothpaste
  • gels, including hair and shower gel
  • contact lens solution
  • any other solutions and items of similar consistency

You may also like to read: What the EU’s new entry/exit system (EES) means for British travellers


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