Liquid restrictions in cabin bags sparks chaos as travellers and airports struggle to keep up with rules

13 June 2024, 20:29

Americans Begin Traveling Ahead Of Thanksgiving Holiday
Some airports have missed the deadline to bring in the new rules. Picture: Getty

By Charlotte Frawley

Changes to rules surrounding liquids in cabin bags has sparked chaos and confusion for both travellers and airports alike, as the holiday season gets underway.

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On Sunday, the Department for Transport re-introduced 100ml restrictions on liquids being carried in cabin bags.

The directive, effective from June 9, has been met with criticism as airports and passengers navigate last-minute changes to pre-departure security processes.

One airport boss said the changes had put operators in a "challenging position, with very limited time to prepare for the additional staffing and wider resources that this will require, and no clear idea of when this issue will be resolved.”

The end of the restrictive 100ml liquid rules was supposed to be June 1, 2024, a deadline originally set by the Department for Transport.

To facilitate this change, the government required airports nationwide to install a new generation of security scanners, with cutting-edge security capabilities allowing for greater detection of prohibited items.

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LONDON - MAY 27, 2018: People at security check at London Heathrow airport terminal
To make the transition the government required airports to install new security scanners. Picture: Alamy

Supply chain delays have contributed to the missed deadline, as only two companies produce the new scanners.

Additionally, the new security scanners are reported to be the size of a small car compared with the old units which were roughly the size of a washing machine, meaning some airports have had to expand their terminals.

Security staff also require training across the new systems.

The Telegraph confirmed that seven of the UK’s 25 international airports had completed the rollout of the next-generation scanners.

Teesside was the first airport to roll out the technology in early 2023, followed by London City Airport last spring.

Inverness, Newcastle, Aberdeen, Southend and Birmingham have also finalised the upgrades and Bristol were due to follow on June 14.

While six of these airports were previously allowing passengers to pass through security with greater liquid quantities (up to two litres per container), the re-introduction of 100ml restrictions on liquids means these airports have had to revert to previous limits.

The shift, which is intended to provide a more efficient airport security screening process, but the latest reversal has sparked criticism across the aviation industry.

The Airport Operators’ Association (AOA) hit out at the Government for the decision:

Karen Dee, AOA Chief Executive said the backflip had “put airport operators in a challenging position, with very limited time to prepare for the additional staffing and wider resources that this will require, and no clear idea of when this issue will be resolved.”

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Aeroplanes At Terminals One And Two At Birmingham International Airport
Birmingham Airport has criticised the government’s decision. Picture: Getty

Birmingham Airport also criticised the government’s decision.

On June 7, Nick Barton, Chief Executive Officer of Birmingham Airport said: “Despite being one of the first UK airports to comply, we have been limited on the use of our multi-million-pound equipment due to an outstanding regulatory restriction.”

Barton also referenced the security delays arising from this change.

He said: “We continually have non-compliant bags with liquids over the allowance which have led to inefficiencies of our equipment and resulted in extended queuing time for customers.”

An X user echoed these concerns in a post saying: “I have been told 2 stories of people missing flights this morning despite arriving 3 hours before their early morning flights.”

“What were the wait times at 4.00, 5.00 and 6.00 this morning please. I have 3 flights in the next 2 weeks so need to plan”, the user said.

Birmingham Airport has now released instruction to passengers stating: “Anything above the 100ml will be removed and destroyed”, but passengers are no longer required to take the liquids out of their hand luggage while moving through security.

This move has effectively created a third category of aviation security for passengers flying from UK airports: liquids can remain in baggage provided they meet the 100ml limit.

Luke Petherbridge, Director of Public Affairs at travel association ABTA said: “Our message is simple – you can’t go wrong if you stick to the current rules around liquids and laptops when preparing your hand luggage.”

Customers are also urged to remember that many international airports outside of the UK remain subject to the 100ml restriction on liquids in hand luggage.

This means that even when you can successfully carry additional liquids in your cabin baggage when departing the UK, you may not be able to return with oversized liquids in your cabin baggage.

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