Airport hand luggage liquids: are UK security rules on liquids and laptops changing due to new scanners?

Rules which mean passengers must remove liquids and laptops from hand luggage whilst passing through airport security will reportedly be scrapped within the next two years.

The limit for taking more than 100ml of liquid through airport security will reportedly be “axed” in the UK by summer 2024.

Currently, security regulations mean that passengers taking liquid in their hand luggage are restricted to containers of up to 100ml, which must be placed in a clear plastic bag when passing through airport security. But this rule could be abolished within the next two years due to the rollout of high-tech 3D scanners.

Restrictions which dictate that passengers must remove laptops from their cabin bags are also reportedly set to go.

The Times reported that the government’s Department for Transport has given major UK airports a deadline of mid-2024 to install more advanced CT security scanners, similar to those used in hospitals, which will enable the change in policy. Ministers have been carrying out a review, with the formal announcement expected in the coming weeks.

It is hoped that the move should speed up security queues, as passengers failing to remove items from their bags or travelling with large bottles of drinks and toiletries over the limit are the biggest cause of delays at airport security.

The limit for taking more than 100ml of liquid through airport security will reportedly be “axed” in the UK by summer 2024. Credit: Getty Images

How long have the rules been in place?

The current rules were originally introduced in the wake of a foiled terror plot by Al-Qaeda, who planned to attack seven planes departing Heathrow using explosives that looked like soft drinks. Fortunately, the incident was prevented - but rules about removing laptops and liquids were still introduced.

With the new scanners however, which have been trialled at London Heathrow for three years, this will not be necessary. While older machines produced only a 2D image of luggage, new technology creates a high-resolution 3D image which enables security operators to zoom in on a bag’s contents, rotate the images, and see objects in better detail for inspection.

What has been said about the ending of the rules?

Heathrow’s chief executive, John Holland-Kaye, told the Times: “We are slowly rolling them out. We have just started the expansion of the security area in Terminal 3 which will have more CT scanners and have a deadline of mid-2024 from the [Department for Transport]. By then the normal passenger experience will be that liquids stay in bags.”

Boris Johnson first announced the trial of the new technology in 2019, but its introduction into airports was delayed by the pandemic, when passenger numbers collapsed. At the time, then-Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said it could “mean an end to passengers having to use plastic bags or rationing what they take away with them” if it was successful.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said the plans concerning airport security rules are “under review”. Credit: Getty Images

Officials have said however that the policy remains under review. Current Transport Secretary Mark Harper told Sky News: “I am afraid you’ll know our usual practice on security matters is we don’t comment on security matters. I think that is quite important.

“I am now responsible for setting the security regime for our aviation sector. So if there are any changes coming, we will set those out for people in due course. But at the moment the regime is as it is with the strict limits on the liquids people can take on planes.”

The technology has already been in use by US airports such as Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta, Georgia, and O’Hare in Chicago for a number of years. It was also rolled out at Shannon Airport in Ireland this year, with the airport saying the move has “halved the time our passengers spend going through security screening”.