The U.K. has set a June 2024 deadline to eliminate the ban on liquids over 100 milliliters at airport security checkpoints, with the widespread use of scanners that also mean travelers will no longer have to remove electronics from their carry on luggage.
Small London City Airport, near the financial district, has become the first London airport to make this shift and the second one in the U.K.
Travellers can now carry on up to two litres of liquid, and toiletries no longer have to be put in separate bags.
It is the second UK airport to use this technology in all its security lanes, after Teesside introduced it in March.
…”The level of processing now through the X-ray is even more secure than it was previously and the machine has the ability to differentiate to between a non-dangerous and a dangerous liquid.” The machine would still reject images it was not happy with, she said, but it would allow staff to focus on potential threats while allowing items such as water, shampoo and perfume to go through.
Liquid bans were introduced in 2006, following an ostensible (and far-fetched) plot in the U.K. to hide explosives in drinks. Thus began the ‘War on Water’. In countries that did not adopt an offensive posture towards bottled water, separate screening had to be done at gates for flights headed to places including the U.S. and U.K. Bottled water was confiscated from passengers in Hong Kong headed to the U.S., so United Airlines economy passengers (for instance) had to rely on cabin crew to keep them hydrated on 15 hour flights. Misery ensued.
Machines that now screen liquids are slower, but passengers don’t spend as much time taking out liquids and electronics and putting them back into backs when they make it through the checkpoint.
So when will similar changes come to the U.S.? TSA has been rolling out Analogic machines, which are slower and have the worst name ever, but do CT scans and mean that if the liquid ban ever had a real purpose they no longer do where these machines are available.
Meet Analogic, it probes your luggage at TSA checkpoints pic.twitter.com/xnTQV0nwiv
— Dooner 🏴☠️ (@TimothyDooner) March 7, 2023
The agency awarded a $781 million contract last year, following a $198 million contract in 2021, and in 2018 each machine was reported to cost $350,000. However there’s no danger that they will be universally available across all U.S. airports any time soon.
Whether or not the U.S. eventually follows the U.K. in lifting liquid bans, I would not expect them to do so before these machines are universal. The agency’s position would likely be,
- We can’t allow more liquids through the checkpoint unless these machines are being used
- We can’t have different liquid rules at different airports
- Therefore we can’t change liquid rules until these machines are at all airport
While the TSA has filed documents in federal court in the past suggesting they are aware of no known threats to aviation (undermining the claim that the lack of a repeat of 9/11 is somehow attributable to TSA itself), bureaucracies are inherently conservative. Any change in rules that is followed by a negative event becomes the fault of the bureaucracy, so rules changes are risky to bureaucrats. No one wants to be the one who loosened restrictions and gets blamed for future failures. It takes leadership at the highest levels to impose change.
The U.S. could come under some pressure when (1) this extends to Heathrow, given the number of U.S.-bound flights that would need separate screening for liquids, and (2) if a Schengen Area country were to do this.
The U.K. has a national directive, and is willing to have different rules at different airports. Some say that lifting restrictions at only a handful of airports isn’t useful to passengers, but I disagree.
Here’s the rub of course. No point UK scrapping the rules when your return airport still applies it!
— Head for Points (@HeadForPoints) April 4, 2023
First, even if you’re carrying the same bottle of liquids in both directions, I’ll gladly take the ability to carry it on one way – not checking bags once isn’t as good as not checking bags at all, but better than not checking them twice.
Second, and more importantly, I’ll gladly take the ability to carry on a bottle of wine or two and I promise that the bottles won’t need to return with me at the end of a trip! (They also might be bottles traveling one way home with me, having picked them up at my destination in the first place.)