Heathrow trials advanced scanners to end liquid limit at UK airports

Technology will be installed at large airports by mid-2024

People queue inside Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport as IT problems cause delays. Reuters
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Limits on liquids in cabin baggage could be removed by summer 2024 at major UK airports due to the use of advanced scanners.

Since 2006, passengers have been required to restrict liquids in bags carried on board flights to containers of no more than 100ml, which must be stored in clear plastic bags, amid security concerns.

Laptops must also be removed for inspection.

Passengers failing to remove items such as creams, bottles and laptops from their bags for inspection is the biggest cause of delays at airport security.

But both restrictions are now set to go, according to reports.

Large UK airports have been told to install advanced computerised tomography (CT) scanners, like those used in hospitals, which will allow airports to examine the items inside bags, by mid-2024.

A trial of the technology was announced in 2019, but the pandemic delayed the roll-out.

Former transport secretary Grant Shapps said at the time it could “mean an end to passengers having to use plastic bags or rationing what they take away with them” if it was successful.

Heathrow’s chief executive told The Times the airport was slowly rolling out the scanners.

John Holland-Kaye said: “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 DfT. By then the normal passenger experience will be that liquids stay in bags.”

The scanners, which are also currently being trialled at Gatwick, allow operators to inspect bags from every angle.

An official announcement is expected before Christmas.

The restrictions were brought in following a foiled plot in August 2006 to bring down as many as 10 passenger planes using explosives which were disguised as soft drinks.

For weeks almost all cabin baggage was banned on flights, except passports and wallets, and a total ban on liquids was in place for longer.

By November, liquids were again permitted in carry on bags, however, they had to be restricted to 100ml and fit in a clear plastic bag measuring no more than 20cm by 20cm.

Decades of flight: Heathrow through the years — in pictures

Laptops, tablets and cameras must also currently be removed from cabin bags.

The technology is already in use at Shannon airport in Ireland, where the 100ml rule has been scrapped. It said the introduction has halved the time passengers spend in security screening.

Consumer champion Which? recently revealed a list of the UK's worst airports for security queues.

Leeds Bradford was named the worst, with an estimated average wait time of 35 minutes.

London City was the best performing of the airports studied, with an average estimated security queue time of only 12 minutes. Half of its users reported a wait time of between five and 10 minutes.

Researchers asked about 1,300 people who travelled from a UK airport between February and August how long they had queued for security.

Airports and average waiting times

  • 1 Leeds Bradford: 35 minutes
  • 2 Bristol: 30 minutes
  • 3= Birmingham: 24 minutes
  • 3 = Manchester: 24 minutes
  • 5 Heathrow: 20 minutes
  • 6 Luton: 19 minutes
  • 7= Stansted: 18 minutes
  • 7= Belfast International: 18 minutes
  • 9= Gatwick: 16 minutes
  • 9= Edinburgh: 16 minutes
  • 10 Newcastle: 15 minutes
  • 11 Glasgow International: 13 minutes
  • 12 Belfast City: 13 minutes
  • 13 London City: 12 minutes
Updated: November 24, 2022, 9:19 AM