A few years ago I traveled to L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue in France with some friends for a quick and impromptu 2 night stay. Before he left town, one of my friends spent the last dollar he had on a jar of tapenade to take home for his wife.
Only thanks to a foiled terrorist attack in 2006 would she never receive the gift. Tapenade, Marseille airport security personnel decided, was a liquid. The glass was dutifully removed and destroyed.
Soon, holidaymakers will be able to board planes with as much tapenade as they want (within reason) – and even more practical items like drinking water, sunscreen and deodorant – because the rule limiting liquids in carry-on luggage to 100ml is the way out , and Teesside Airport is the first in the UK to do away with cheques.
In-flight liquid restrictions were introduced in 2006 after British police foiled an Islamist terrorist attack to detonate explosives on transatlantic flights. They planned to smuggle liquid explosives disguised as soft drinks into their carry-on luggage in what would have been the deadliest terrorist attack since 9/11. After the foiled plot, the government upgraded the terror threat from “serious” to “critical” and banned carry-on baggage on all planes as a precautionary measure.
Hand luggage was soon relaxed but the liquid ban remained – not just in the UK but in countries around the world. To date, you will not be allowed through security at UK airports with liquids over 100ml and all liquids that comply with the regulations must be sealed in a transparent resealable bag. But that all changes.
The end of the 100ml liquid limit
New CT X-ray technology means airports can scan liquids in carry-on baggage, providing security personnel with a detailed 3D image of the contents, rather than the existing 2D images. Passengers can travel with up to two liters of liquids, gels and purees per person in their luggage and no longer have to store laptops and other electronic devices on a separate shelf.
Miami International Airport, Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci International Airport and Amsterdam’s Schiphol have already started using the technology, and the UK government has given airports until June 2024 to upgrade their screening equipment. Some are already rolling out the new scanners.
In early March, City Airport announced that it would be the first to lift the 100ml liquid limit in time for the Easter holidays. However, Teesside International Airport has quietly put them in the mail, introducing two state-of-the-art scanners that allow passengers to board flights to destinations such as Dalaman, Alicante, Amsterdam and Corfu without removing liquid miniatures from their bags. As Schiphol has also deployed the new scanners, this means that a passenger can now complete a full return flight without the 100ml liquid limit.
Liverpool and Luton airports are due to follow 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 to update their systems in time for next summer.
John Strickland, aviation consultant and analyst, said: “This will represent a large reduction in stress for passengers, reducing the time taken for security checks and improving flight punctuality. From the airport’s perspective, this offers more opportunities to improve retail and catering sales when passengers have more time and are more relaxed.”
However, there is a catch. When traveling to an overseas airport that does not have the appropriate technology, passengers cannot take their oversized liquids in their hand luggage on the return journey. If they haven’t paid for a checked bag, it means they have no choice but to use up all of their tapenade, put on sunscreen and leave whatever is left behind. That, or spread their liquids in small 100ml containers.
Currently less than 1 per cent of the 347 EU airports are using the new technology and the decision to increase liquid levels on flights is a government matter, meaning the majority of passengers will have to wait a while to feel full to take advantage of the benefits rule change.
What does the future hold for airports?
There are other ways the airport security experience could improve with the advent of new technologies. Fingerprint and iris verification are already being 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, principal engineer at SITA Lab, told The Telegraph:
“With the roll out of things like biometrics and better risk profiling of travelers coming through. I want to think about the next decade when you arrive after an international flight you will walk down a long corridor and that is the immigration process. Your biometrics will be verified. You will be picked out if necessary, otherwise just walk to the exit. It will make a big difference.”
In-flight mobile data will soon become the norm on flights to Europe after the EU announced in November 2022 that airlines could safely deploy 5G technology on planes; The deadline for compliance by member states is June 30, 2023. However, the United States is unlikely to allow 5G coverage on flights any time soon due to higher frequencies and concerns that it could cause harmful interference aircraft could cause.
There are also companies developing sophisticated robots that could potentially replace sniffer dogs at airports. It is believed that such machines might be less fallible than sniffer dogs, which are prone to false alarms when fatigued and require extensive training before use.
Given how long it has taken the airline industry to finally update the 100ml rule for liquids (17 years), don’t expect innovations like facial recognition technology and robotic sniffer dogs to be unveiled at Luton Airport any time soon.