Airport security U-turn: passengers face 100ml liquids rule again over equipment concerns

Ministers have ordered an astonishing emergency U-turn on airport security following concerns about new equipment that allows passengers to keep liquids in their hand luggage.

Airports with the new scanners have been ordered to reimpose old rules from midnight on Saturday, meaning that travellers will be limited to carrying 100ml containers for liquids, aerosols and gels (LAGs).

The Independent understands that a range of concerns have been raised about the new equipment, which is also in use at overseas airports such as Schiphol in Amsterdam and Shannon in Ireland.

While security has never been compromised, a number of airports using the new scanners have experienced long queues due to a higher-than-expected rejection rate, with security officers obliged to carry out hand searches of cabin baggage. Sources have told The Independent that harmless liquids such as sunscreen have been misidentified as high threat substances.

The government has told airports with “next generation security checkpoints” – which were supposed to end the hassle of removing toiletries in clear plastic bags for separate screening – to revert to the old rules on liquids, aerosols and gels. Electronics such as laptops are unaffected.

“This temporary move is to enable further improvements to be made to the new checkpoint systems and will only affect a small number of passengers,” the Department for Transport (DfT) said in a surprise statement on Friday evening. “For most passengers, security measures will remain unchanged.”

It said only passengers travelling from London City, Newcastle, Leeds Bradford, Aberdeen, Southend and Teesside airports would be affected.

A DfT spokesperson said: “From 0001 on Sunday 9 June 2024, 100ml restrictions on liquids will temporarily be reintroduced for passengers travelling from six regional airports where Next Generation Security Checkpoints (NGSC) are in full operation.”

The introduction of new equipment had already been long delayed. A target was set in 2022 to have the scanners at all airports from this month, but officials admitted earlier this year that the deadline would not be met. None of the six largest UK airports – Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Stansted, Luton or Edinburgh – is fully compliant.

The restrictions were introduced in 2006 following a “liquid bomb plot” on a transatlantic flight.

The transport secretary, Mark Harper, told BBC Breakfast: “We've reintroduced that rule while updates, changes are made to the scanning equipment at the airport to make sure we can continue delivering our world-leading levels of aviation security.

“It’s a temporary measure and we’ll set out when that can be reversed in due course.”

The last-minute move comes days after Birmingham airport reimposed the old 100ml limit, blaming a regulatory hurdle. However, the airport says passengers need not carry the liquids in a separate bag. Long queue for security have built up at times at the West Midlands hub.

Nick Barton, the chief executive of Birmingham airport, said: “Since opening our new security area, and 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 meaning we had to limit liquids to 100ml. This rule has now been implemented nationwide.

“Despite the 100ml rule still being in place, we continually have non-compliant bags with liquids over the allowance, which have led to inefficiencies of our equipment and resulted in extended queueing time for customers.

“It is now imperative that all customers comply with the nationwide rule, to ensure a smoother and simpler transition through the airport. A non-compliant bag with liquids over 100ml can add up to 20 minutes to each passenger’s journey through security..”

It is believed the six airports fully equipped with new scanners will allow passengers to leave liquids (under 100ml) and laptops in their cabin baggage rather than being removed and put in a separate tray. This is also the policy at Birmingham airport.