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New Airport Tech Reduces Security Time By Half, But It's Only Universally Used in the UK

United Kingdom Travel Safety Airports + Flying
by Katie Scott Aiton Mar 13, 2024

Soon travelers going through UK airports will no longer need to adhere to the 3.4 ounces liquid rule. In 2022, the UK Government announced that by June 2024, all major airports in the nation will have to install and manage new high-tech 3-D security scanners.

The introduction of the scanners will mean passengers will no longer need to chug their water bottles or carry miniature toiletries in a re-sealable plastic bag. As of this summer, travelers will be allowed to go through security with up to 68 ounces of liquid, and electrical items can remain in the bag. It’s hoped passengers will not only find it easier to pack but wait times at security will be considerably reduced.

The advanced scanners will create a detailed 3D image of luggage contents, similar to a hospital CT scan. This will allow security staff to see everything inside the bag without the need to take things out.

Liquid restrictions in UK airports were introduced in August 2006 following a thwarted Al-Qaeda terrorist plot to detonate liquid explosives hidden in drinks bottles on 10 planes.

The UK is the first nation in the world to relax the restrictions on liquids. But with this accolade comes the risk of passenger confusion and initial consequential delays at security. Some airports, like London City and Teesside, already have the system up and running, while bigger airports like Heathrow and Gatwick are aiming to meet the June deadline, but some delays are possible. Furthermore, not all airports in the nation have access to the technology. Smaller airports will still enforce the 3.4-ounce rule.

The security technology contract at Gatwick is being managed by Smiths Detection. Over 30 million passengers travel through Gatwick each year. Smiths Detection says their CT X-ray scanners will allow passengers to “speed through” security.

National Geographic reports that London City Airport — where the upgrade has already rolled out — has seen “the average time it takes to conduct security checks is now only three minutes and 45 seconds, down from seven minutes in 2022.” Cutting the scanning wait time by half will significantly improve the overall airport experience.

However, it’s predicted that this summer, passengers should brace themselves for expected delays. Many airports need extra time to finish installing the new equipment. At London Heathrow, not all lanes will have the new scanners. This could cause major confusion, especially for summer vacationers and occasional travelers who will not know which lanes will enforce the new regulations. Aviation commentator Sally Gethin shares the reason for the delays with the BBC.

“[The scanners] are very heavy. Sometimes the floors in the actual terminal have to be reinforced. The cost is really high for these particular scanners — it’s the latest technology,” she says, noting that training airport staff and supply chain issues are also part of the problem.

An extension until 2025 is currently being discussed for Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, and Manchester airports. Although some security points will be using the new scanners this year, passengers are being advised to check in advance and follow the existing 3.4-ounce rule.

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