How much liquid can you bring on a plane - future trends

If you are a frequent flyer, you are probably quite familiar with the staple of all air passengers: tiny toiletry.

For almost two decades now we’ve been practising the same drill. Try to squeeze in your set of travel-size beauty products into a transparent resealable bag. Keep it ready to go into the tray at security screening. Join the endless queue, and fight all bad thoughts (will I be asked to kindly step aside and wait, did I remove all banned items?).

All the hassle, queueing, waiting and stress are coming to an end. The liquid limit is expected to be lifted with the introduction of new state-of-the-art scanners at airports around the world.

What are the current restrictions on liquids? Are there any exceptions? Which airports are installing the new tech and removing the ban?

And why does the liquid limit exist in the first place?

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A quick history lesson: The foiled terrorist threat

August 2006. British authorities reveal a plot involving drinks bottles filled with home-made liquid explosives. The plan is to turn these into bombs on the plane. Seven transatlantic flights are targeted – all leaving from Heathrow and travelling to the USA or Canada. This is the biggest terrorist plot since September 11. If successful, it could kill 2000 people overnight.

New security rules are needed at airports.

Initially, all hand luggage is banned. Then in November 2006 authorities in the UK introduce the 100-ml liquid rule (an amount deemed safe by experts). The USA and the world follow lead. Airports publish brochures explaining the new rules, install signs illustrating the liquid limit, and even offer transparent zip-lock bags in the right size to passengers at security checkpoints.

 

allowed liquids label

 

The 100-ml limit on liquids or the 3-1-1 rule

The rule of thumb when packing and boarding a plane is the following:

 

Hand luggage

You are allowed to bring a single 1-litre bag (approx. 20x20cm) of liquids, aerosols, gels, pastes and creams in your hand luggage. All containers must be travel-sized, i.e. up to 100 ml (3.4 oz) and must fit comfortably in the 1-litre transparent resealable bag.

So, 3.4 ounces or smaller containers that must fit in 1 zip-lock bag, 1 bag per person (3-1-1 rule).

 

What is considered a liquid?

How about my hairspray? Peanut butter? Toothpaste?

The liquid rule covers:

Pastes and creams – toothpaste and cosmetics, such as shampoo, perfumes, lotions, lip gloss, etc.

Liquids – drinks, contact lens solution, semi-liquid foods (tinned soup, honey, syrup, jam), etc.

Aerosols – hairspray, shaving foam, spray deodorant, etc.

Gels – including hair and shower gel, etc.

Yes, peanut butter (or anything with a similar consistency) is considered part of the LAGs (liquids, aerosols and gels).

When in doubt, check with your airline or the airport (make sure you know the rules at all airports you are going through – departure, transfer and arrival, just in case).

 

Checked luggage

All containers larger than 100ml must go into your checked luggage regardless of the amount of liquids inside.

So, if you are carrying a 300ml shampoo bottle, even if it is only partially full (definitely less than 100ml of liquids inside), place it in your checked luggage.

There are virtually no limits on the liquids, aerosols and gels in your checked luggage. So, all your hair sprays and perfumes, your gift wine bottles, precious exotic jams or salsa can safely go in your checked bag. Just remember to wrap them safely in bubble-wrap (or your socks/T-shirt).

 

sign to gates

 

Procedure at security checkpoint

Once you have safely packed all containers larger than 100ml in your suitcase and checked your bag, you may head to the x-ray scanners with your hand luggage.

At the security checkpoint:

  1. make sure all your liquids, cosmetics, etc. (LAGs) come in travel-size containers (less than 100ml) and are packed into a single transparent resealable bag, size 20x20 (approx.1-litre).

Note that the bag must be well-sealed (not tied at the top), so, if any of the tiny bottles doesn’t quite fit inside, you may have to let go;

  1. remove your laptop and any other large electronics (hairdryer, a large camera, etc.) from your carry-on;
  2. place the transparent bag with your liquids and your large electronics in a tray for scanning;
  3.  remove your jacket and all metal objects, such as coins, keys, belt, etc. and prepare these to go through the scanner too.

 At some airports you may also be asked to take your shoes off.

After the screening, you will have enough time to place your belongings back in your pockets and hand luggage.

 

Exceptions to the 100ml liquids rule

Liquid containers larger than 100ml can be taken on board and through security in the following cases:

 

Medication/ baby food

  • essential medical purposes - liquid medication you will need for your journey, hypodermic syringes and tablets; 
  • inhalers and other types of medical equipment that are essential for the trip;
  • special dietary requirements - you are allowed to bring liquid food if you are on a special diet.

Note that in these cases security staff may require a doctor’s note or prescription to verify that the name on the prescription matches the name on the boarding pass. Containers may also be opened and screened for security purposes.

  • baby milk, baby food and sterilised water - if you are travelling with an infant, you may take as much baby formula/ food and water as you need for the journey (including purees, soy milk, cow’s milk, even cooling gel packs).
  • breast milk is also allowed on the plane in quantities larger than 100ml even if your baby is not travelling with you; liquid containers are limited to less than 2000ml in this case and they may be opened and screened separately (if you prefer the bottles not to go through the x-ray scanner, they will undergo alternative testing). Note however that frozen breast milk will not be allowed through security.

 

Duty free products

You can bring liquids larger than 100ml in the cabin, such as alcohol, your favourite perfume, soft drinks, etc. if:

  • They were bought at the airport or on the plane (duty-free)
  • They are sealed inside a security bag (this is done for you at the shop when you buy the product)
  • The receipt is inside the security bag and is clearly visible (ICAO recommendation).

Note! Open the security bag only once you have reached your final destination. Meanwhile, airport security may open the bag to screen the liquids and then reseal it so that its safety is guaranteed.

 

Phasing Out the 100ml Liquid Ban

Rules about liquids and large electrical items through security screening are about to change. On December 15, 2022 the UK Department for Transport announced that new next-generation security scanners will be introduced at UK airports by June 2024. The news followed the infamous Summer of lost luggage and airport delays, largely caused by time-consuming bag security and border control checks. 

The upgrade to the new scanning equipment will put an end to the 100ml rule on liquids. Passengers will be allowed to bring containers of up to 2000ml (2 litres) in their hand luggage. What is more, liquids and large electronics won’t need to be taken out of your hand luggage and placed in the tray at the security checkpoint.

Trials of the new security equipment started at some airports back in 2018. However, many major airports in the UK will not be able to meet the June 2024 deadline.

The transition to the new 3D scanners will be gradual, which means the 100ml rule will also be gradually phased out and is currently still in place at many airports around the world.

 

New Security Screening: A Glimpse into the Future

The new CT scanners use 3D x-ray technology which is paired with advanced explosive-detection features. This makes them faster and more reliable than the currently used 2-D scanners.

 illustration of x-ray image on luggage

 

Current 2-D scanners VS the new 3-D scanners

The current 2-D scanners distinguish between organic and inorganic materials. When going through the scanners, items are displayed in different colours: blue for inorganic (potentially dangerous metal tools, like knives, scissors, etc.), green for mixed (silicon, aluminium, but also gunpowder and detonators) and orange for organic materials (food, paper, clothing). 

Explosive substances are also organic and displayed in orange (2-d scanners cannot distinguish food from explosives). This is why currently all liquids are limited to 100ml and checked separately.

The new 3-D scanners however can differentiate between high-strength alcohol, water and hydrogen peroxide (the chemical used in common hair bleach as well as bombs).

 

How do the new CT Scanners work?

The new generation of computed tomography (CT) scanners have numerous advantages in both detecting potential threats and reducing false alarms.

They are similar to CT scanners used in hospitals and provide layered 3-D images of items inside a passenger’s bag. Airport security staff can then zoom in and rotate these 3-D images 360 degrees. This allows for a thorough analysis, compared by experts to digitally unpacking a traveller’s bag.

In addition, the new 3D scanners also use advanced explosive-detection algorithms that signal any suspicious items that may require further inspection. 

 luggage scanner

 

Will the end of the liquid limit make airports less safe?

The removal of the 100ml rule does not mean that flying will be less safe. On the contrary! According to the UK’s Department for Transport the new scanners will definitely improve airport security because:

  • the new machines offer clearer images paired with advanced threat-detection features, meaning improved security and less false alarms.
  • passengers will also have to spend less time at security checkpoints as they will no longer have to remove their liquids and large electronics from their bags
  • the new scanners will also reduce plastic waste (less disposable toiletry bottles and resealable bags).
  • passengers can also save money as they will no longer have to buy drinks at expensive airport shops but can bring their own water or drink bottle - up to 2 litres.

 

Airports with New 3D Scanners

A number of airports around the world have successfully implemented CT scanners.

They are available at London City and Teesside Airports. Ireland’s Donegal and Shannon also use the new tech, which has reportedly halved the time for passenger security checks (550 passengers an hour).

Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport was among the 1st to introduce the CT scanners - trails here started in 2015.

Other airports that have started introducing the new advanced equipment at some terminals or special fast lanes include:

Italy, Rome - Leonardo da Vinci International Airport, and Spain - International Airports in Barcelona and Madrid.

The USA (Phoenix and Boston, Hawaii’s Lihue, Atlanta’s Jackson and Chicago’s O’Hare), Australia (Melbourne Airport has special ‘smart lanes’) and Asia (Japan - Tokyo International Airport Haneda, South Korea - Incheon and Jeju, Qatar - some lanes at Hamad International, and Terminal 2 at Kuwait International Airport).

However, at some of these airports liquid restrictions still remain.

Airports Missing the Deadline

Large UK airports like London Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester will probably miss the June 2024 deadline. Heathrow has introduced 3D scanners on some security lanes but the remaining equipment is expected to be installed by 2025.

The reason for the delay is that the new machines are expensive and much bigger and heavier than the old scanners. This means that in most cases security areas need to be reconfigured and the floor needs to be reinforced.

 

The future

CT scanners are the new standard in airport security and are expected to be gradually installed at European airports. Once this process is over, the liquid limit will probably be phased out within the following two years.

Meanwhile, before packing your bags, check with your airlines and the airport. 

Prepare for the current liquid restrictions if necessary. Pack your liquids in 100ml bottles and seal them safely in a zip-lock plastic bag ready to go through the scanner. 

Look forward to the day when new 3D scanners will put an end to the hassle and waiting at the airport security checkpoint. Who knows? You might be among the lucky passengers who can enjoy a smoother travel experience thanks to the new and safer CT scanners.

Yet if you experience any disruption, know your rights and contact us.

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