It’s happened. It has really, really happened. For the first time since 2006, airports in the Western world are starting to end restrictions against liquid measures, which had limited liquids taken through airport security to sizes of 100ml or less.
London City Airport has become the first significant airport to lift the 100ml liquid restriction, allowing passengers to once again bring the simple joys of life, like a full bottle of water through airport security and onto the plane.
How and why are important, as is where else similar plans might be hatched, so here’s the story on the present and future of airport security scanning.
New Scanners, New Rules
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m quite judge-y when it comes to airports. I’ve been lucky to experience most of the “best” in the world and it’s provided fantastic context for the benchmarking of what best in class airport experiences can be.
In 2021, I unexpectedly took part in a trial at London City Airport where the only airport actually located in metropolitan London was testing new scanners. Think of these like the TV equivalent of UltraHD, compared to standard definition.
Once you’ve seen it, you can’t “unsee” it.
The idea is that the highly advanced 3d imaging technology allows screeners to fully scrutinize any item without it being removed from a bag. In theory, and in my actual experience, this speeds up security lanes significantly.
City Airport (LCY) was a delight to me anyway, but this was the first day since 2001 that I threw a bag on a moving belt and kept walking, picking it up on the other side almost in stride like a Tom Brady pass.
Like many “new” technologies, a learning curb for screeners may not unlock the true speed potential in airports for a bit, but I’ve seen first hand what it can do.
Speed, Efficiency And Joy
To be clear, the new rules at London City Airport are already live. If you want to bring a cup of coffee over 100ml through, go for it. Water over 100ml, no problem — even big bottles. The scanners can detect if the liquid poses any threat.
Bottle of wine in your carry on, you totally can too. Of course, airline rules would say that cabin crew – and only cabin crew – can actually pour the alcohol on a plane, but for people hoping to bring a treat home without checking a bag this is joy. And yes, some airline crews will happily pour your bottle for you on board.
In GSTP’s airport etiquette guide, I reference how much of an impact even 30 seconds per passenger creates as a knock on impact. Assuming a steady line of thousands of people, each passenger taking 30 additional, or unnecessary seconds adds up to long queue times.
By no longer holding people up over liquid limits and allowing more items to fully remain in a bag without the need to unzip, remove, place on a tray and then put it all back together on the other side; there’s huge potential for better screening times.
A UK Mandate, But Where Else?
The UK has mandated that airports catch up to these new standards by 2024. To the surprise of no one, Heathrow is woefully behind on investing in the experience of the passenger, so only time will tell when that changes. Hopefully, by 2024.
As Gary Leff muses, the TSA already has contracts and access to these newer style screening machines in the United States, so there’s great hope that a similar directive could be put in place. Trials have been ongoing, but there’s been little movement to standardize all checkpoints to these newer generation screening tools.